Joey Manson would often come bustling to the front door of his mother's home, still in his work uniform, guitar in hand, breathlessly apologizing for his tardiness or telling his family he had to stop on his way home to grab a bite to eat. His older brother, Dan Manson, said that many if not almost all family photos show Joey with a lopsided, mischievous, grin.
Since the 36-year-old was a primary care paramedic, his lateness simply came with the job. But this week as Joey's brother looks towards the front door, he will not get to see his brother. He will never see his brother again.
"Joey is difficult to encapsulate. He was, above all, kind and it didn't matter if you had known him for five minutes or five years, you felt like you knew Joey in the same way," Manson's brother said. "Which is why I think since his passing, we've received - it's painful to look at - but there are over 800 personal anecdotes; people sending little moments that they've had with Joey."
On January 16, Joey Manson took his own life after years of struggle with his mental health. Manson's brother said that while he knew his brother was struggling mentally, he and other family members had always encouraged him to seek out support, there was no inkling that his brother's life would end this way.
"As much as we, his family can be support for him, we don't know what that's like to show up at someone's door and see them in their very darkest [moments], and then have to clean up the ambulance after and go to the next call," Manson's brother said.
According to a 2021 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it cited that EMS providers are 1.39 times more likely to die by suicide than the public and the number is likely underreported.
"Many first responders may consider stress to be ‘part of the job’ and feel that they cannot or should not talk about traumatic events and other occupational stressors. The perceived stigma around mental health problems or concerns over the impact on employment (i.e. being labelled “unfit” for duty) may lead first responders to not report suicidal thoughts," the study stated.
The death of Manson, who was known for his infectious and witty sense of humour, beaming smile and selflessness has reverberated far and wide, not only in Sylvan Lake, where he worked as both a paramedic and volunteer firefighter but also in and around Airdrie.
Manson's work partner of four years, Advanced Care Paramedic, Nadine Flear, said that Manson, who went by the nickname of "Jo-Jo” revered the late Airdrie paramedic, Mike Hart. Hart's death weighed heavily on her partner and it was something he ruminated on for a long time. Manson's brother also echoed Flear's statement.
"Joe took that quite hard and he would tell me, this is the problem that we [first responders] are just supposed to keep going," Manson said. "We only get to see them [paramedics] when they're in uniform, but they have to go back to their families and how do you do both if you're not taking care of yourself?"
When asked if mental health struggles are still a taboo subject among paramedics, Flear admitted she feels there is an attitude of 'if we don't do this, who will?', especially among the more senior paramedics. She also said that oftentimes when paramedics and other first responders seek therapy, they do not feel as if the therapists are truly able to understand the unique types of trauma experienced by first responders. Flear added that although first responders do seek out therapy, she, like Manson's brother believes that therapy should be mandatory and part of work.
"I don't know how to do my job without turning around and knowing that he's there. I don't know what I'm going to miss the most; the whole entire thing. I'm just going to miss his stupid stories; I'm going to miss his sound effects on everything. I'm going to miss it all," Flear said.
Manson's brother, like Flear, could not put into words what he will miss the most about his, the one who had a penchant for completely taking apart VCRs as a kid and then trying to put them back together.
"Even when he couldn't be present, which there were many times, he was there and what we are feeling right now; I don't know how else to explain it other than a negative presence. In some way his absence has made him more present."
According to Manson's obituary, in lieu of flowers, people are encouraged to donate to Boots on the Ground Alberta (https://botgalberta.com/), a charitable organization that provides peer support and suicide prevention to First Responders in Alberta.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis reach out to:
- Mental Health Support (City of Airdrie Resources)
- Mental Health Help Line at 1.877.303.2642
- Addiction Help Line at 1.866.332.2322
- Kids Help Phone at 1.800.668.6868
- The Distress Center at 403.266.4357
- Provincial Abuse Line: 1.855.443.5722
- Hope for Wellness Line (Indigenous) 1.855.242.3310
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