09/29/2014 06:30 EDT | Updated 11/29/2014 05:59 EST

Ottawa police force in shock, mourning Staff Sgt. Kal Ghadban

The Ottawa police inspector who oversees Staff Sgt. Kal Ghadban's unit says his suicide Sunday was "an awful wake-up call" and something the force "didn't see coming."

In an interview with CBC Radio's All in a Day host Alan Neal, Insp. Paul Johnston said dealing with the incident has been "surreal."

"It's something that we didn't see coming.… First responders deal with difficult things every day, and the loss of Kal — who was larger than life, one of our best — is a shock to us," Johnston said.

"When a police officer takes on the job, it's a simple answer, we do it to help people. And with Kal … it epitomized what he was about. It's not just our policing community and the immediate family that's suffering, it's also the community. … I've been receiving messages from all over town, and they're in the same position we are. They're in shock. This is a strong officer that we've lost today."

Johnston also said Ghadban's colleagues have been asking themselves whether they missed a sign that he was struggling.

'Clearly he hid his concerns inside'

"We're trained to look for those things. Kal was a very, very proud person. His focus was always helping others," Johnston said. "We didn't see anything, and that's the thing. Mental health is a difficult challenge. We've seen that. It's become a major focus in policing. We do a difficult job, and clearly he hid his concerns inside. And that's eating us up, because we're asking ourselves, did we miss something?"

The police force has a victim crisis unit designed to help victims of crime cope. That unit is now working with Ghadban's family and with Ghadban's colleagues, Johnston said.

The force has also activated its critical incident stress management team to help officers.

"It's an awful wake-up call for everybody, and I'm sure other police services are going to be watching as well. It can happen to anybody," Johnston said. "As a police officer for 30 years, when I first started, when you dealt with something that was difficult you just sucked it up.… And I think when you're dealing with stuff, one piece of straw at a time, it can build up, and sometimes we don't share those. And now we have to recognize that with mental health, it can affect police officers.

"We're all very proud of what we do, and we all show that we're strong, and sometimes we hide our own feelings. And we need to stop doing that."

Ghadban's family releases statement

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Ghadban's family wrote they're "heartbroken to have lost Kal so tragically and so young.

"He will be dearly missed by his wife, his three children, and his entire family. He was a proud and devoted husband and father, and an excellent police officer; a role he dedicated himself to for more than two decades," the statement reads.

"We would like to thank his friends, his colleagues and the community for their support and for keeping our family and friends in their thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time. The loss to our family will remain but the outpouring of love we have received for Kal has been comforting."

Need help?

Here are a few local resources available.

- Ottawa Distress Centre line: 613-238-3311.

- Mental Health Crisis Line: (Ages 16 and up) 613-722-6914.

- Child, Youth and Family Crisis Line for Eastern Ontario: 1-877-377-7775