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Training By Location

‘What we say to ourselves and to each other, matters.’: A Q&A with Badge of Life Canada’s Laura Kloosterman 

‘What we say to ourselves and to each other, matters.’: A Q&A with Badge of Life Canada’s Laura Kloosterman 

Aqua box

As the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP) Annual Conference comes to a close, the CASP team is gearing up for yet another big event. Their Suicide Prevention Coordinators Network is hosting a teleconference with former Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) constable and current Executive Director of Badge of Life Canada, Laura Kloosterman.  

The teleconference – titled Shaping a New Culture of Mental Wellness: The Power of Words and Proactivity – will take place on June 13 from 1-2:30pm EST via Zoom. You can register for free here.

LivingWorks had the chance to speak to Laura about the upcoming teleconference and her career as a first responder, including how suicide prevention has evolved and what needs to change to ensure all first responders are safer from suicide.  

Josh Werle (LivingWorks): Let’s start with talking about your career up to this point. If you could, please tell me about your time as a police constable and how you have arrived to where you are now with Badge of Life Canada? 

Laura Kloosterman: “I joined the OPP when I was 19 years old. My entire adult career was being a police officer. It afforded me the opportunity to do all kinds of really cool things throughout my career. I retired two years ago after 32 years of service. Before retiring I had joined Badge of Life Canada in their peer-support session and attending the peer support meetings. As time progressed, I joined the Board of Directors. A few years in, I was nominated to be the Executive Director, which I’ve been for over two years. It has been a huge learning experience, but also a lot of fun.” 

Laura Kloosterman and her father the day she graduated from Provincial Police College. PHOTO: Courtesy of Laura Kloosterman.

32 years with the OPP is an incredible achievement and it sounds like you are doing amazing things with Badge of Life Canada. You have a network teleconference coming up titled: “Shaping a New Culture of Mental Wellness: The Power of Words and Proactivity.” Could you tell me about what that entails and where the idea for this started? 

“I think we have used certain words without really knowing what they mean. Take ‘resilient’ for example. During our Monday night peer-support sessions, people have brought forth that they were ‘resilient’ and that’s what possibly caused them to get a mental health injury. This caused me to pause and think ‘wait a minute, when we use these words do we really know what we’re saying?’ Do we really know how we’re talking to ourselves and what we’re saying in our internal dialogue? We’re never going to change the culture. That to me is always looking back and wondering if we’ve changed. Instead of that, I want to create a new culture and new dialogue around mental health to make it open, honest, authentic and organic. It’s not one of these things where it should be uncomfortable. I always think back to when I was a youth officer and we had three people die by suicide in high schools within a short period of time. I put together a panel to come and talk to the parents about their teens and suicide. One woman came, and she had lost her daughter and husband to suicide. It was a packed house and she sat at the front of the room and said, ‘I need everyone to say the word suicide.’ Everyone felt uncomfortable but she was committed to sitting there until they said the word. Eventually we all said it together and she said ‘see? Nothing happened.’ I remember the power of that moment and recognizing it’s a word we have to get used to. We have to be comfortable with it, talk about it, and go back to what you are saying to yourself. Words do matter. Instead of skirting around things we need to be out-front. What we say to ourselves and to each other, matters.” 

That is a very moving story and I couldn’t agree more, words do matter. Speaking of changing the culture and taking the initiative to try and make those shifts, has mental health and suicide specifically been something that is typically discussed amongst first responder agencies? 

“Absolutely not. It’s a very stoic profession. We want to say we have come far in creating new dialogue and things like that, but I know people that still can’t say the word suicide. I know people that are uncomfortable with it, even when we are dealing with members of the public who are going through a mental health crisis. People say something like ‘what are your intentions?’ Just say the word, ask ‘are you thinking of suicide?’ We need to say those things. When we become comfortable with using the words, not only are we going to help ourselves in our own networks, but that’s when it goes outside and helps first responders do their jobs. As far as talking about suicide, we need to do a lot more work on that.” 

How do you think the overall conversation surrounding suicide prevention has evolved over the years? 

“I think we are getting somewhat used to it, because it is so prevalent all the time. I think people want to talk about mental health more and more. We need to talk about it proactively much more, instead of reactively. How do we get things in place beforehand? How do we create that Network of Safety with all of us on the same page, deciding how we’re going to confront things. Be authentic, be real, be transparent. I think that’s the direction we are moving towards. I’m a ‘it should have been done yesterday’ kind of person, so I am very cognizant that we have to take baby steps. We have come far, but we need to do a lot more work on it.”  

PHOTO: Courtesy of Laura Kloosterman.

How can friends, family and colleagues of first responders play a role in suicide prevention? 

“Family members play a huge role. They are the ones that are going to witness the first signs of stress. They are the ones that know their loved ones the best and know when they’re off. They also have to learn to understand the stressors of the job. The biggest thing is the open lines of communication. It’s not fair to say, ‘I’ve had a bad day, I am not going to talk about it’ that’s not fair to your loved ones. Communication is key and you can’t keep everything in. It’s like when you take a beach ball and push it down into the water, it’s going to come back and hit you in the face every time. You have to look at it, and let it go, but there must be acknowledgement there.”  

You spoke briefly about the Networks of Safety and how important that concept is to make sure the whole community is safer from suicide. What does creating Networks of Safety in suicide prevention mean to you? 

“It means community. Everyone from the bus driver, the librarian, your next door neighbor, your peers and your family, everyone plays a role. You play a role in every one of their lives, and they play a role in yours. People know what others around them are usually like, so they need to be able to say ‘you’re off’ and then be able to sit in that and know what to do next. Suicide prevention is rooted in the comfort level of the communication. Lots of people don’t want to ask certain questions because they aren’t prepared for what is next. In a Network of Safety, everyone plays a role and understands what they can do, and what help is out there.”  

As time goes on, what role do you see Badge of Life Canada playing in the suicide prevention space? 

“It’s community and connection. We have peer support with a mental health professional twice a week. One for family members and one for public safety personnel. We have created that connection by letting people know that no matter where they’re at someone will sit with them and feel the discomfort together. There is an open line of communication and resources where we will walk beside you when you need it.” 

If you had one wish for creating a suicide safer first responder community, what would that be? 

“Start from the very beginning. Be more proactive and start with a pre-service before you’ve put your application in to become a first responder. Know what is going on and what resources are out there. There’s so much misinformation out there, so let’s turn that into information. Once you empower yourself you can empower others, and once you empower others you can empower yourself. My biggest wish would be that we’re all in it for the right reasons and we’re doing this because we care about ourselves and care about each other.”  

To hear more from Laura at the upcoming Canadian Suicide Prevention Coordinators Network Teleconference in June, register here. 

Connect with Laura on LinkedIn.
Follow LivingWorks on LinkedIn.

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