TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Post-traumatic stress disorder and depression are five times more prevalent in firefighters and police officers, according to a recent study by the Ruderman Foundation. A Pima County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective knows this all too well.
Kurt Dabb has been in law enforcement for 18 years, a detective for about half that time, and served in the military before.
“I went into the Army 12 days after I graduated high school,” Dabb said.
He was deployed to Operation Desert Storm at age 18.
“It was my first time with death. It was my first time seeing dead bodies,” he said.
Now, as a homicide detective, Dabb sees death every day — solving what he calls the ultimate crime. But years ago, it was almost too much.
An incident at work nearly took his life. He said he felt the need to use his gun to save himself.
“I pulled my gun and squeezed the trigger, and it went ‘click,’” Dabb said.
His gun misfired while he was in a chokehold. After that, he said he noticed changes in himself.
“I was drinking heavily,” Dabb said. “I’m not going to say suicidal thoughts did not enter my brain.”
Addiction and depression took over, as it can often do for many first responders.
One study found close to 40 percent of police officers admitted to having a drinking problem. As a father, husband and detective, he wanted to be better — and be there for his loved ones.
“Replacing that unhealthy addiction with a healthy addiction is basically what I did,” Dabb said.
On a whim, he signed up for a race — a 100-mile race. He didn’t finish, but he did find a new passion.
Now, he’s run a few ultra-marathons and has been sober for eight years.
“I laugh when I get in foot chases with people. I tell them, ‘you don’t want to run from me,’” Dabb said.
Running, for this detective, is cathartic. He said it allows him to go somewhere else, think about what might be bothering him, the struggles he may have had at work, or the best thing imaginable for someone in a high-stress environment — nothing.
“It just allows me to not think about anything, except that next mile, or even that next step,” Dabb said .
Although each mile might be painful and hard, for him, it’s not about the steps counted, but the steps moving forward.
“By me coming forward and sharing my issues that I’ve dealt with for 18 years as a cop and growing up in an alcoholic and abusive family … if I can just help one person, then it’s all worth it,” Dabb said.
His next race is this Saturday, Colossal Vail 50/50 race.
For help dealing with mental health, call 1-877-SAMHSA7 (1-877-726-4727).