Recommendations to the Veterans standing committee on
PTSD within the RCMP:
Change needs to start right as soon as a cadet is signed on at Depot with curriculum changes/additions. In Depot there has to be a mindset instilled that members are going to see things that are going to affect them and that this is normal and it is normal as well to ask for help. Cadets need to see by video of and role plays a debriefing from both positions. As well as role play how to approach a member in need or has been diagnosed with an OSI. They need to be able to demonstrate how an incident can affect someone and it is ok to ask for help after an incident. There needs to be education in the psychological effect to the brain by trauma. Part of the physical education training needs to include mental health resilience practices, as well as signs and symptoms of PTSD. They need to have PTSD survivors of all ranks, as well as, spouses come and speak as part of their graduation procedures.
All existing Leaders and supervisors need to be trained on in the psychological effect to the brain by trauma and how to develop an open and non-threatening atmosphere around mental health. Leaders and supervisors must be able to demonstrate how to respond to a member when approached about an incident as well as how to check in with a member after one. All new leaders and supervisors must pass a module on mental health and show examples of how they have demonstrated and lead a mental health aware career.
Spouse and family members need to be invited to a 3 day OSI education and awareness event as part of the graduation ceremonies at depot. They would gain knowledge on the effects of trauma on the brain, signs and symptoms of PTSD. Spouses would learn how to support a loved one after a traumatic incident and when to seek help. What resources are available and how to access them as well as self-care. Spousal PTSD survivors would speak about their experiences. When a member marries the spousal peer support responsible for their detachment must be notified by their supervisor so they can provide the spouse with information on signs, symptoms, and resources and how to access them. An excellent example is The Calgary police service has made it mandatory all married officers must attend a 3 day OSI couple’s seminar in Canmore with their spouse. The officer is paid for their time and accommodations for the couple are covered by the police force.
There has to be a travelling road show of PTSD survivors of all ranks and spouses which brings that their message out to the working members. Development of national PTSD peer support program with representative in all detachment for both members and spouses. Ongoing up to date mental health literacy at every block training and an embedded psychologist within large detachments and areas. Members will have mandatory counselling on an ongoing basis with check-ins every 6 months. When a member is promoted or moved into a specialized unit there must be mental health training developed specifically for the unit which is to be given before the member joins the unit and specialized unit mental health ongoing follow up.
There needs to be zero tolerance for stigmatising of mental health issues or individuals by any rank.
Post incident care
After all incidents members must be offered a psychological debriefing, given a list of resources available and connected with a peer support member. Mandatory check in points must be initiated after incidents, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, 3 months and 6 months and they must be documented. Spouses need to be notified of incidents, not the details but that their spouse was involved in a potential traumatic incident and what services are available to them. If it is a major incident spouses need to be given the option of being involved in the psychological debriefing and follow up. Members in an isolated community should be removed from that community following a traumatic event and moved to a bigger centre so support services are available
Post diagnoses care
Standard procedure for members diagnosed with PTSD need to be implemented; must be given either a referral to an OSI clinic or a list of psychologists/psychiatrists who specialize in military/LEO PTSD. Members and spouses should not be left to figure this out for themselves. Spouses of members with PTSD must be given more than the 6 psychological visits per year and a referral to couples counselling specializing in PTSD. There needs to be mandatory post diagnoses or off duty sick checks-ins for both the member and the spouse. This must be done with honest compassion for the member and their family. Not once in 3 years has someone from the VA or the RCMP spoken to me, ask how my husband and our family are doing if we required further support.
Not one stitch of policy can replace human contact and compassion. Human connection is the key to successful healing and return to work.
By Lori wilson
Families of the RCMP for PTSD Awareness
Trauma, Stigma & Betrayal in the RCMP:
An Underground History
Staff Sergeant Jeff Morley, Ph.D.
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress
“The ordinary response to atrocities is to ban them from consciousness. Certain violations of the social compact are too terrible to utter aloud: this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. Atrocities, however, refuse to be buried…”
“Traumatic events call in to question basic human relationships. They breach the attachments of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the construction of self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience. They violate the victim’s faith in a natural or divine order and cast the victim into in to a state of existential crisis”.
Judith Lewis Herman
Trauma & Recovery
The RCMP, as most police departments do, seeks to recruit and hire the best and brightest minds it can attract in Canada. Police officers are put through a rigorous hiring process which includes aptitude and ability test, physical tests, medical tests, psychological tests, polygraph testing, and detailed background investigations. Arguably, new police officers are pretty healthy and “squeaky clean” when hired.
We know that not all will stay that way.
Some will be physically injured or killed on the job.
Some will suffer significant psychological distress.
We ask these officers to put themselves in harm’s way every day on the job. We expose them to horrific violence, unimaginable atrocities, and to all forms of suffering and evil that humans can inflict on one another. Violent attacks, sexual assaults, gang rapes, torture and rape of children, infants, and even animals. We may ask them to pick up the bodies of their dead friends and colleagues. We ask them to tell parents their child has been killed. We ask them to deal with babies who are mutilated, burned and killed – or left alive and facing unspeakable suffering with unfixable wounds, and permanent scars. Our officers themselves are shot at, punched, kicked, spat on, attacked, and at risk in countless ways from pursuits to toxic chemicals and natural disasters.
When officers suffer symptoms after exposure to such events, and often after many years of repeated and countless exposure to such atrocities, is it due to some flaw in their character? Are they malingering? Faking? Taking advantage of the sick leave system or psychological services plan?
They are not.
In fact, we might need to be more concerned if an officer did not suffer any symptoms and could face such horrors and remained unmoved and unaffected.
What does the research say about how police work affects officers ?:
Cops are at greater risk for Depression (Police 21%, Population 4%) (Gershon et al 2009)
11% of police report suicidal thoughts as a result of the job (Marshall, 2003)
7-9% of police suffer PTSD (Marmar et al, 2006)
33% suffer partial PTSD (Gershon et al , 2009)
74% of police have recurring memories of police incident (Marshall, 2003)
62% have recurring images (Marshall, 2003)
54% actively avoid reminders of an incident (Marshall, 2003)
54% of police reports often feeling physically, emotionally, or spiritually depleted
(Gershon et al, 2009)
82% believe the world is unsafe (Marshall, 2003)
88% developed new prejudices on the job (Marshall, 2003)
53% report a change in spiritual beliefs after entering the profession (Marshall, 2003)
88% report work affecting their family (Esposito, 1989)
92% of police no longer trust others (Marshall, 2003)
John Violanti (2003, 2006) a lead police researcher has found police work has harmful effects on:
He also noted police have increased rates of:
Somatic complaints Domestic Violence Marital Discord
Alcohol abuse (25%) Absenteeism
Much of the above research is dated. None is from Canada.
What are the rates of psychological distress in RCMP employees?
We don’t know.
No research is being done.
Health records systems are outdated and inadequate to provide accurate statistics. Even these records would not account for those who suffer in silence, those who are afraid to speak up, or those who seek out care and pay for it privately so the RCMP does not know they are seeking help.
Why doesn’t the RCMP research this issue to determine the extent of the problem?
Recently the new Commissioner stated publicly there is no systemic issue. How does he know? What did he base these comments on? Who is giving him this information? What test is used to determine the benchmark which would constitute a systemic problem? Is the Commissioner the person best able to make this determination?
One might wonder if he refuses to fund the research because he does not want to know the answers he may find. Leadership cannot be provided on multi-million dollar issues by sticking one’s head in the sand.
Proposals for research on these issues have been made and patently rejected by the RCMP executive.
Government is not likely to challenge him on this, as they too do not want to know the answers, in fear of financial implications. Minister Toews recently commented he had no evidence any changes would negatively affect front line RCMP officers. How can the evidence be obtained when the RCMP and government refuse to fund research to determine the extent of the problem? Convenient for the Commissioner and the Minister. Not so convenient for the officers who are suffering, stigmatized, and lacking a voice.
Stigma around PTSD in the RCMP is also real and powerful. There is no programming in place to address it.
“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. People who have survived atrocities often tell their stories in a highly emotional, contradictory, and fragmented manner which undermines their credibility, and thereby serves the twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy. When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.”
Traumatic events hold a powerful charge in the human psyche. Trauma wreaks havoc on victims, and society alike. Trauma loves secrecy and silence. People don’t want to talk about what they have been through – it’s painful to speak about, and the shame of being a victim can feel overwhelming – especially for cops. Society affirms victims’ silence as we don’t want to hear about the inhumanity and atrocities that occur in our midst, and that we inflict on one another. We do not want to be confronted by victims that may demand action, and care. We do not want to confront our own vulnerability in the world. The illusion that we are all safe and nothing bad could happen to us is comforting. Consciously or unconsciously we blame the victim at some level, though we can’t even admit to ourselves that we do this, even in subtle ways. We want to believe that people who develop symptoms like PTSD after a trauma are somehow weak, faking, malingering, or were predisposed. This too is comforting as we believe none of us is like that, thus we are immune from such suffering, and the stigma that goes with it. Trauma brings with it a fog of unconsciousness that keeps people suffering in silence, and keeps society protected from the victim’s pain.
“The knowledge of horrible events periodically intrudes into public awareness but is rarely retained for long. Denial , repression, and dissociation operate on a social as well as an individual level. The study of trauma has an underground history. Like traumatized people we have been cut off from the knowledge of our past”.
Police organizations too remain unconscious to the trauma employees face every day. There might be big consequences if they did not. Action might be required. It might cost money that is not in the budget. Horrific stories may need to be told and witnessed that might be incredibly hard to hear. A cop might cry, or rage. What would happen then? Cops aren’t supposed to do that. They are to be strong and remain unaffected by the work. They carry the hero archetype in our society’s psyche. We want to believe there are strong people out there who can do the work without being affected. Society certainly doesn’t want to see Superman or Superwoman become a victim. Then we all become unsafe and at risk. Cops need to believe we can do the work and stay healthy. If we didn’t believe this, who would seek out the job?
“Witnesses as well as victims are subject to the dialectic of trauma. It is difficult for an observer to remain clearheaded and calm, to see more than a few fragments of the picture at one time. It is even more difficult to find a language that conveys fully and persuasively what one has seen. Those who attempt to describe the atrocities that they have witnessed also risk their own credibility. To speak publicly about one’s knowledge of atrocities is to invite the stigma that attaches to victims”.
So the RCMP Commissioner, government, Canadian society, and even RCMP employees themselves collude to avoid speaking of the trauma and atrocities faced by our people. It is publicly declared “there is no systemic problem”, so programs are cut and we move on.
There is a problem though. One that everyone wants to remain unspoken.
The RCMP has hundreds of employees so disabled by PTSD that they cannot work.
Some may never police again and are discharged from the organization.
Many families are destroyed and devastated from the damage done to their loved one.
Many require therapy, medications, and on-going support.
Some members have killed themselves in their suffering and distress.
We don’t know the numbers of employees who may suffer deeply but manage to stay at work, and hide their symptoms, or manage their symptoms.
We don’t know how many leave the organization prematurely for other careers, where their decision was actually a result of trauma exposure.
We don’t know how many simply suffer in silence.
What does it take to constitute a systemic problem?
We do know the RCMP spends tens of millions of dollars a year on trauma and mental health issues – sick time, doctor and psychologist visits, medications, VAC pensions. No one can give an exact number but $60 million a year is a reasonable guess.
There is an unlimited budget. Costs are rising. The RCMP could spend close to a billion dollars in the next decade on these issues.
They won’t spend a few hundred thousand to conduct research to explore the problem with an eye to better prevention, screening, and early intervention. Research consistently shows money is way better spent on prevention, offering a far greater ROI. The RCMP does not see this and is cutting programs in this regard.
The RCMP requires an integrated Trauma Strategy for several reasons:
Legally organizations are required to provide healthy workplaces for employees, including psychologically healthy workplaces. There are known, serious psychological risks to police work. The RCMP is legally responsible to address these known risks, and provide programs to mitigate, prevent, screen, and care for employees. The effectiveness of these programs needs to be based on science and research as well as best practices that recognize the unique challenges to the psychological health of police employees. The programs offered to employees at Bell Canada or Revenue Canada may not be adequate to the unique needs of the RCMP.
Financially it is good business to invest in prevention, screening, and early intervention. Such dollars offer a far greater Return-on-Investment than treatment programs after employees are debilitated – though these programs are needed too. In fact police unique trauma treatment programs need to be designed, evaluated, and implemented to ensure treatment is effective, evidence-based and timely. Currently the RCMP offers no treatment for its suffering employees, but is simply at the mercy of whatever programs and services may or may not be available in local communities for employees. Given the numbers of suffering employees the RCMP has, the costs to the organization, and the absence of community options, the RCMP needs to have the vision and foresight to design and offer such programs to help its people heal.
Finally, to take such steps is simply the right thing to do. We hire the best and brightest we can find. They get damaged. The RCMP has a moral responsibility to care for its employees and keep them healthy, or return them to health when damaged. If the RCMP needs to trim its budget, member health is not the place to do it. Does the public want damaged and distressed officers out on the street protecting them?
Healthy Workplace and Trauma Strategies have been commissioned and written but ignored by RCMP management and the Commissioner.
In so doing the RCMP betrays it employees.
The irony is they do it believing it will cut costs, with no evidence to show it will. It may in fact backfire and cost them more.
The RCMP leaves itself open to increasing costs, lawsuits, and more employees suffering and not receiving the care they need. It is not good business, and it is unkind. It shows a lack of intelligence (literally – research not being done), willful blindness, and a shocking lack of compassion.
Hopefully our new Commissioner has the courage and vision to at the very least engage in meaningful discussion on these issues, and consult with relevant experts from within and outside the RCMP, before setting a direction.
Employees who speak out on such issues suffer often severe consequences, which helps keep the secret hidden, and officers suffering in silence while the RCMP betrays them.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada recently developed a national Mental Health Strategy. What would it take for the RCMP to do the same, and develop its own? The RCMP is the biggest police force in Canada. It needs to take the lead in conducting research, and designing new, creative, evidence-based programs to care for its employees psychological wellbeing while promoting resilience. Partnering with other police forces and universities across Canada to fund research, pilot and evaluate new programs, and develop and disseminate best practices makes good financial sense, it demonstrates being intelligence lead, and shows a commitment to care for the employees who put themselves on the front lines every day in service of Canada.
Link to Full document above
A thesis research summary
Author: Alanna Thompson, MA
The most important resource of any police agency is its people.
New recruits are assessed carefully and deemed to be among some of the most physically and psychologically healthy individuals as they begin their career. In the course of their work, these officers experience stressors such as constant public scrutiny; shift work; time constraints when responding to calls; exposure to violent acts; and witnessing the harm and death of others that can lead to the development of traumatic stress over time.i
Occupational stress experienced by a police officer can “spillover” to his or her home life.ii
In an effort to appear in control, maintain the home as a safe place free of trauma, and avoid burdening the family with stress, the officer may avoid discussing their operational experiences with their spouse iii,i Repressed emotion can lead the individual to experience difficulties in communicating within close relationships.iv,v Their on-the-job skills in maintaining authority and appearing emotionally detached may carry over to their relationship with their spouse and other family members, potentially causing stress and conflict in the home.vi Police marriages are at risk for marital discord and divorce, and the quality of these marital relationships appears to be dependent on the ability of the police couple to cope effectively with this spillover effect. Much of the research over the last thirty years has examined the direct impact of operational stress on the officer as an individual, while studies that have considered its effects on police spouses and the marital relationship are based on survey data. It is useful to understand how some police couples cope effectively, in order to share this knowledge to help support other officers and their families.
Purpose of study
The purpose of this research project was to explore perceptions of civilian spouses regarding the impact of police work on the marital relationship, and the individual and relational coping strategies used within the marriage to cope with operational stress. An in-depth exploration of this topic is vital to increasing our understanding of operational stress, its transmission to significant others, and how it may impact the marital relationship.
Spouses’ recommendations for the police organization
“Sometimes people need a push. Nobody officially called him to say, ‘how are you doing? Is there anything we can do to help?’ Had he been home with cancer, you know, “they do work parties; they do all these other things. I think a little bit of input or touching base would have been helpful to say,‘we get it, how are you doing? Are you okay?’ There was nothing physically wrong with him to stop him from doing stuff, but that emotional support was not there.”
“They could do seminars, inform the membership and spouses, and communicate more actively about resources available, what is going on, and changes that are coming up. I think it would be fairly easy for the department, the union, or both to create a service that serves police families. You could centralize this information in a log-in, web-based service.”
“There definitely needs to be training for these guys on the effects that are going to happen in the family. I think they need to be aware of that, and how to cope with the negatives of the job, and to learn how to relieve stress in a healthy way. I think it would be great to have an experienced spouse available to answer questions and do a lecture with the spouses. A panel, where people at different stages can share their experiences, could work well, and I think it would be an eye-opener.”
“I just do not know how they can get to that point where the guys feel like they can phone, and it would not be fodder for everyone in the office. It probably is not, but I think that is the perception. So to somehow get over that stigma and say, ‘it is okay, if you need to talk to somebody, these are the options’.”
The full, detailed PDF of this research study is publicly accessible online via the UBC circle database: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/43052
Any correspondence with the author can be directed to her email address: