Allison (Ally) Schroeder was 27 and just beginning her dream career as a Buffalo firefighter in 2015 when her brother, Matt, died just a few weeks shy of his 35th birthday. A compassionate person who chose a career as a firefighter because of her lifelong desire to help people, Ally was stunned to learn her brother had died by suicide. She, Matt and their brother Mike grew up in South Buffalo in a stable home, went to good schools and, by her account, “had a great childhood.”
As she struggled to come to terms with the loss, Ally downplayed her brother’s death, keeping her feelings and emotions to herself.
“Stigmas are very strong for those in the public eye, such as first responders,” she said. “It’s difficult enough being a female firefighter, I didn’t want to perpetuate that stigma by crying at the firehouse after a tough call, but it was difficult.
“We’re taught to be strong, not show weakness or sadness. So I just kept quiet and continued to do my job,” said Ally.
But there were daily triggers, and Ally became more anxious and depressed. In retrospect, she realized the signs were there: she was sleeping more, calling in sick, being short with her daughter, not eating and just not acting like herself. Others noticed, too, but Ally continued to ignore her symptoms, fearing the stigmas.
Her depression worsened to the point where she attempted suicide and ended up in the hospital.
Eventually Ally was formally diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
“Knowing that what was wrong with me had a name made all the difference,” she said. “I finally understood why I was acting this way, and finally believed I could deal with this.”
Today, Ally is back on the job as a firefighter. She helped start a wellness committee that offers peer support and can link coworkers to professional support if needed.
“We need to get rid of the stigmas associated with mental illness,” says Ally. “If we help each other, it’ll make the world a better place for all of us. People need to know they are not alone, that there is hope and there are people who care.”
Earlier this year, Allison ‘joined the conversation’ by taking the Anti-stigma Coalition’s Pledge to End Stigma. Learn more about her story and the Pledge at letstalkstigma.org/the-stories.
Story topics: Mental Health Awareness