NORTH NEWTON, Kan. (KSNW) – Post-traumatic stress can rear its head differently to first-responders and veterans.
For North Newton Police Department officer Brian Rousseau, his personal life and work-life collided several years ago.
“I moved out of my house a few weeks before Christmas a few years back. From there, my kids were afraid to be around me, my anger, my issues I had. And there was a lot of heavy drinking,” Rousseau said.
Rousseau needed help but did not know how to ask. His wife, Erin, did some research online and came across a group called Warriors’ Ascent she felt Brian could benefit from.
Warriors’ Ascent takes a holistic approach to healing post-traumatic stress through meditation, exercise, nutrition and mindfulness. One of the pinnacle events of the five-day course in Kansas City is the leap of faith. Participants scale a pole and dive toward an object with the support of their peers, symbolic of leaping toward a better life.
“I was like everyone else. I was hesitant,” Rousseau admits.
Rousseau completed his cohort in February 2019. A year later, he feels the difference is palpable.
“I feel 100 percent better. I’m not as tense. I’m able to have conversations. Before it was the smallest things and it was World War three. My anger and hypervigilance just came over me,” Rousseau says.
It’s been one year since Rousseau’s Warriors’ Ascent cohort and now, he’s on the other end. Coming full-circle, he and Erin are now the first point of contact when curious first-responders or veterans seek out information about the program.
Executive director Mike Kenny is a 22-year veteran of the US Army. He’s found that many first-responders and veterans come through the program after being offered a pharmacological approach by other entities.
“We like to say that we give our participants the tools they need to heal the mind, body and soul,” Kenny said.
A letter-burning ceremony aims to let go of dark memories and thoughts. Yoga and nutrition habits are taught. Kenny says it’s more community-based than one-on-one counseling.
A law enforcement advocacy group reports 2019 was a record year for current and former law enforcement officers dying by suicide, with 228 deaths. About 90 percent were male officers, and approximately 25 percent were veterans with 20 plus years of experience.
Rousseau is now back on the force with North Newton Police Department and refers to what he learned as “tools for his tool-bag” when he encounters rough times.
“We’ve been failing up to this point. Bosses and agencies haven’t seen the struggles and they’ve lost people …and now there’s something in place to get us the help we need,” Rousseau said.