The policing community in Newfoundland and Labrador has been rocked by the sudden loss of RCMP Cpl. Trevor O'Keefe, a highly regarded and experienced Mountie who became known throughout the province in recent years after taking on the media relations role.

But his law enforcement legacy will be most keenly remembered in places such as Clarenville, Holyrood, Bell Island and St. John's, some of the locations he was stationed throughout his career.

O'Keefe died by suicide Monday, multiple sources have confirmed. Fellow officers are paying tribute to what they say was his exemplary service and strong morale.

"If he was struggling, you didn't know it," said one officer, adding that O'Keefe was always the one to raise spirits in a room and provide support when it was needed.

O'Keefe had some tough assignments

But another officer said O'Keefe "bunkered away" a lot over the years during what was described as "some very hard roles" that he never thought twice about tackling.

"The public needs to be aware that when we go home and tear away that uniform, there's not a Superman suit underneath. We're people like everyone else, and sometimes we take things home to our families and our children."

O'Keefe's death is again highlighting the challenges faced by first responders, and the toll it can take on their mental health.

Officers working long hours

One source said health services for officers in the province is "phenomenal," and a lot of lives have been saved, but added the number of officers seeking treatment for mental health challenges is inundating those services.

In 2016, the RCMP said 249 new long-term disability claims had been filed, and of those almost 47 per cent cited mental health issues — an increase of five per cent over 2014. 

Compounding the problem is that many detachments aren't operating at full strength, with many officers on various types of leave, forcing those available for duty to work long, exhausting hours.

"The wear and tear is constant, but we've just got to stay tight and help each other," said an officer.

"It's a calling we chose."

A request from CBC News for an interview with the commanding officer of the RCMP in Newfoundland and Labrador, Assistant Commissioner Peter Clark, was not immediately returned.

If you are in distress or considering suicide, there are places to turn for support, including your doctor or Newfoundland and Labrador's Mental Health Crisis Centre at (709) 737-4271. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention also has information about where to find help.