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Montana police officer finds healing in sharing his PTSD story - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Montana police officer finds healing in sharing his PTSD story

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Great Falls police Sergeant Rich LaBard (MTN News photo) Great Falls police Sergeant Rich LaBard (MTN News photo)
GREAT FALLS -

We recently introduced you to a Great Falls police sergeant who courageously shared his story of struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Reporter Shannon Newth has the the next chapter of his story on the road to recovery.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder, brought on by trauma. It can occur from one event, or as a result of cumulative stress. There are three main symptoms - avoidance, re-experiencing the trauma and hyper vigilance There can also be physical symptoms, like high blood pressure and rapid heart rate.

Those with P-T-S-D can recover - Sergeant Rich LaBard is living proof.

"What I really had a hard time with after I went through treatment and got a grasp on what happened to me, was the guilt of leaving this guy, in my mind, to die, but I was ok with that when I made the decision because I was going to save these kids and I was either going to kill this guy or he was going to kill me, so that was how I was ok with spending his life to save the kids. When I got in the house, it was already done," LaBard said.

August 16, 2004 is a day that changed LaBard. The change wasn't instantaneous, but rather an unfolding over years. LaBard was first on scene to an active shooter call, where he was forced to leave a man shot in the chest in the yard to proceed - as police training teaches - to a threat inside the house. There he found a man who had just shot himself.

Personality changes, sleepless night, flashbacks, paranoia. Mental and physical symptoms escalated over years, all the while he didn't connect the dots between incidents and symptoms, suicide became an option to bring peace and solace to the constant noise inside his head.

"I hadn't gotten to the point where I had made a plan, but I w as certainly headed that way," LaBard recalled.

There was no compartmentalizing for LaBard. The battle was intense, all consuming. Exhausted, with a high temperature, rapid heart rate, and heavy breathing, he couldn't mentally handle what was happening inside him. And physically, he couldn't go on.

Following a second flashback, he broke. "The next thing that I remember is that I had a phone in front of me and a duty roster, which just could have easily been gun."

He made a call and choose to get help and after receiving immediate medical care, LaBard spent two weeks in an intensive treatment program for uniformed officers in Vermont.

"I made a decision I wasn't going to come back and just be quite, which is kind of a tradition in our culture and risk somebody taking their only life. If I would've just told them what happened to me and helped them understand they're not the only ones. If I didn't do that and somebody took their life, especially someone that I knew, I could've never lived with myself," LaBard said.

So, he shares his story - a  real, honest and personal example of PTSD in someone who continues to do his job as a police officer.

LaBard often has assistance in these presentations from Senior Officer Justin Stevens, who is passionate about helping others - and keeping post traumatic stress from becoming a disorder.

"[It] eats you up. Can't control what's happened in the past or what's going to happen in the future, but we try to. If we can just work on being here in the present moment and being thankful for where we're at right now," Stevens explained.

Men and women in blue are trained to be objective on scene, but they're not without emotion. Behind the badge, each will respond differently to different types of calls. For those who go down the painful road of PTSD, there is light and a future.

"[I] Hope people realize we're people too. We have a life outside of police work. "Even though we're cops, we're human too," Stevens said.

"Was it life changing? Absolutely. I'm still functioning as a police officer. Is it ever going to go away? Probably not. I deal with anxiety constantly. I have to be aware of what my mind is doing, what my brain is doing, because I can fall back into old habits," LaBard concluded.

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