Suicide survivor helps Airmen, families battle adversity during pandemic
By Susan A. Romano, AFTAC Public Affairs
/ Published April 28, 2020
PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Airmen and families assigned to the Air Force Technical Applications Center here participated in an online video chat with suicide survivor Doug Monda to discuss resiliency as the nation grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Monda was joined by 92 members of the nuclear treaty monitoring center who dialed in to hear about Monda’s battle with depression and mental health struggles.
“His message is a very simple one,” said Doug Rothenbush, director of AFTAC’s 24th Analysis Squadron. “He is a firm believer that no one is alone and that people facing any type of adversity can live happy and healthy lives.”
Monda began his presentation by giving the audience some background into his career. A law enforcement officer by trade, Monda spent many years in the “rougher” areas of police work – SWAT teams, gang and drug task forces, and sniper squads. He received numerous awards including Officer of the Year, three Life-Saving Awards, seven Unit Citations, and five Certificates of Commendation.
Yet despite his enormous career success and countless accolades, he found himself in a dark place -- so dark that he attempted to take his own life, not once but twice.
“The burden just got too big,” he said, candidly. “I was depressed and was suffering from serious post traumatic stress after a situation on the job that had me and my weapon staring straight in the eyes of a 12-year old kid. It was just too overwhelming.”
But through counseling, medical intervention and a huge support system at home, Monda was able to climb out of despair and into a place that has given him meaning and purpose. He now speaks publicly about his battles and aims to deliver a message of awareness about PTSD, depression, and suicide in first responders, hoping to break the stigma before it’s too late.
“We invited Doug to speak with us because we know there may be people out there who are feeling the stress and strain of the COVID quarantine,” said Rothenbush. “Knowing there are others who have faced incredible pressure and are willing to share their experiences can be very healing and cathartic. His message certainly resonated with many of us on the chat. It takes a lot of courage to put himself out there like Doug did.”
Monda used two metaphors during his presentation to illustrate his point.
The first was a comparison to the movie, “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray. The premise of the movie is Murray’s character finds himself stuck in time, waking up each morning only to relive the same awful day each time his alarm clock sounded.
“That’s what it was like for me before I retired from law enforcement,” he explained. “I felt like I would wake up every day, but the nightmare was still playing over and over again.”
The second metaphor he used had to do with a wheelbarrow.
“Essentially, your life is like a wheelbarrow,” Monda said. “Each chapter of your life starts out empty, whether it’s when you start a new job or begin a new relationship or something along those lines. As you move along, you begin to fill your wheelbarrow with things like knowledge, experience, education, friends, homes, children, and hobbies. But sometimes, the wheelbarrow is filled with stuff you don’t want to carry along like overdue bills, divorce, unemployment, accidents, bad health or death of a loved one. That’s when you have to learn to ‘reduce the load’ and balance out what you’re carrying in your wheelbarrow.”
Monda kept the attention of the 90+ listeners for nearly two straight hours who seemed enveloped by his message of resilience.
“Doug’s message resonated with encouragement and a continued passion for advocacy,” said Wes Schuler, a nuclear technical information specialist and retired Air Force chief master sergeant. “During the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, I faced the stress that came along with the fact that my mother had just committed suicide. My wife and I had to get her affairs in order in a short window of time. We are truly grateful to our AFTAC family who showed their support.”
The retired chief continued, “Doug’s message did not fall on deaf ears and provided me with hope for the future. I am truly glad he was not successful at suicide. The fact that he has started his own foundation to try to avoid even more tragic loss to suicide is a true blessing. We are all so glad that he has provided an outlet for education, care and therapy for those who have suicidal ideations so that life may continue to flourish.”
Monda works closely with his business partner, Karen, who is also his wife. As founders of their nonprofit organization “Survive First,” their vision is to reduce first responder suicide and save lives.
“These are challenging times we’re dealing with right now,” said Rothenbush, “and hearing stories like Doug’s can really open your eyes to the realization that there is always someone whose burden might be greater than your own. I hope when we get back to our ‘new norm’ and return to work in full force, we can invite Doug to speak to AFTAC in person so everyone can hear his powerful message of hope."