A Mountie with 25 years of service says the traumatizing effect of witnessing violent deaths and working for bullying supervisors drove him to attempt suicide.
“I put my gun in my mouth and tried to pull the trigger,” said the officer, who fears he could lose his job by speaking out and asked that his identity be concealed.
Believing his career would suffer if anyone knew he was depressed, he sought treatment in secret.
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“I have worked with half a dozen guys who have taken their own life,” he told CBC News.
He says he knows first-hand why officers hit rock bottom.
“It’s an accumulation of pride, things aren’t going away,” he says.
“If you’re isolated, you’re bullied, you’ve already ignored your family — if they’re still around. You only have cops as friends, you measure everything by success at the workplace; if that goes south, failure is not an option.”
Tired of being a pallbearer
After the deaths of six of his friends, he says, RCMP bosses tried to blame their suicides on anything but work.
An RCMP officer (who wishes to remain anonymous) told CBC News he attempted suicide after hitting rock bottom. (CBC)
“It’s very easy for a supervisor to say there were problems at home or the marriage was breaking up.”
He’s tired, he says, of being a pallbearer.
“I’ve lost too many. I’ve carried too many. We can’t afford to have any more,” he says. “There’s a mental health crisis.”
And some experts agree.
Dr. Greg Passey, a psychiatrist who works with both the military and police officers who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, says the RCMP is trailing behind on the issue.
“To be quite frank, the RCMP at this moment in time does not have a program in place that is even close to approximating what the military has,” says Passey.
But RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau says the force is working to get rid of the stigma associated with mental health issues.
To aid in this, the force is about to launch a five-year mental health plan and hopes to encourage officers to seek help when they are suffering from depression.
According to Moreau, there have been 16 documented suicides of serving members — and 13 retirees — in the last eight years but, he admits, those cases have not been reviewed.
Last year the RCMP told CBC they do not track employee suicides, but Moreau says that is changing.
‘We have to do better’
“We will make it mandatory that every suicide that we have in the organization, a postmortem is done … and that we review the cases to see if there is anything we can learn from that, and put in place anything we can do differently to assist our members.”
RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau says the force is working to reduce the stigma attached to Mounties’ depression. (CBC)
One suicide is one too many, he says.
“Any reason that somebody may decide to end their life through that means is certainly tragic and we, as an organization, have to do better.”
Moreau says the RCMP is determined to convince officers it’s OK to talk about mental illness.
“We’re almost like Superman and Superwoman — and we have to be everything to everybody — but let’s not forget we’re all human beings and we don’t wear a cape, and some of the stuff we see in our work will have an impact on us.”
Dr. Passey says, however, that the RCMP’s mental health plan only allows officers six therapy sessions without approval, and puts too much bureaucratic red tape in the way of treatment.
“The problem with the RCMP is that on paper it appears they are doing a lot of things,” he says. “But in reality they are not.”
He says mental health support is the key to reducing suicide.
“The level of support a police department provides to an officer in regards to stressful situations is as important — if not more important — than the actual exposure to traumatic events in preventing things like PTSD and suicide.”
And, according to Passey, the RCMP now have a higher rate of PTSD than that seen in the military.
He says research shows that among patients with PTSD, about 19 per cent will actually attempt suicide.
Dr. Greg Passey says the RCMP trails far behind the military in its treatment of PTSD. (CBC)
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that there is going to be higher rate of suicide in the RCMP,” he says.
“But you truly don’t know until they track, not just serving members but more importantly, those members who have already retired.”
There has been no study of police suicide across Canada as a whole, but in 2012, an Ontario report found 23 Ontario Provincial Police officers had committed suicide in the previous 13 years — more than the number killed during the same period in the line of duty.
Passey says U.S. studies show almost nine times as many police officers [there] die from suicide and their own handgun than from felons.
Recent suicides investigated
A special investigator with the BC Coroners service is now looking into the death of Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre, who took his life last July.
He was the senior RCMP spokesman who bore the brunt of criticism after the RCMP misled the public over the Taser death of Robert Dziekanski.
Friends say he was never allowed to clear his name.
Several officers who have been interviewed by the coroner say that investigation will also examine the suicide of another RCMP member earlier this month.
The RCMP says it will listen to any recommendations from the B.C. coroner and make changes if necessary.