Steve Serbic was one of those firefighters who thought his mental health would never waver.
“Then my daughter got really sick and I had a series of kid calls back-to-back, and that was my mental health crisis that happened in the middle of my career,” Serbic told the Now-Leader. “I’d never had one before, so some firefighters helped me get to a counsellor and it took me four counsellors before I opened my mind.
“Change is a choice.”
Serbic is assistant chief of operations with the Surrey Fire Service and has just released a book detailing his childhood, his career as a firefighter and his journey dealing with post-traumatic stress.
“The Unbroken,” Serbic said, is a “series of notes that I took from my clinical counselling session when I was struggling and the clinical counsellor suggested that I write down each session. The reason the book is called ‘The Unbroken’ is because I was in my doctor’s office and I was in a really bad way and she was holding my hand and she asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I just want to be unbroken.’ She said to me, ‘You’re not broken. You’re wounded.’
“Having a crisis or an event or a post-traumatic stress injury is an injury, you need to treat it like one.”
In his lead-up to finding a counsellor that worked for him, Serbic said although he always told them he never wanted to talk about his childhood, it would always end up being the first topic to come up.
“My book is written about my past. The events that I had that were traumatic, actually helped me figure out my past,” he noted. “The book that I wrote is a story about myself and I had to tell myself that story. I had to look back at myself and my childhood and change my narrative of my childhood.”
It was when he worked at a fire department on Vancouver Island that Serbic first started to talk about his post-traumatic stress.
“I really struggled in my first year there, and a really cool guy from another department came over to help me,” he said. “He didn’t know me. He just gave me some tools on how to try and figure out how to connect with my firefighters. He started to talk to me about sadness, and there’s two things first responders don’t like to talk about: depression and therapy,” he continued.
“Eighty per cent of firefighters surveyed across North America were anonymously asked … in 2018, ‘If you were struggling, would you reach out to a manager?’ Eighty per cent said ‘no’ because they would be looked upon as ‘weak’ or ‘unfit for duty.’ They’re not giving their name in the survey, so that’s a real stat.”
Serbic said he was living somewhat of a double life.
“I had a beautiful wife and family and a great job, one that I loved doing, but then when I was by myself, I had this overwhelming sadness,” said Serbic. “Because you don’t want anybody to know, you don’t reach out for help.You just kind of continue that lifestyle, so I lived a double life for a long period of my life.”
When it came to the book, Serbic said he never had the intention of publishing it but after his son’s friend read it and two editors looked over it, he decided to release it.
Then COVID-19 happened.
“The only reason I finished the book is because I lost several people to suicide and I want to try and be part of the change,” he said. “I was on the fence for a while, and then COVID hit and I waited, and looking where COVID is now, I think everyone needs a little push and they need to know it’s OK to feel sadness, it’s OK to have anxiety. But you can’t suffer alone, you need to reach out for help.”
For books purchased from Friesen, proceeds will go to headsupguys.org, which is an online resource that “supports men in their fight against depression by providing tips, tools, information about professional services, and stories of success.”
If you or someone you know needs is struggling with mental health and needs help, you can visit the B.C. government’s Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre.