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RCMP has seen 31 officer suicides since 2006

(Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News) -- In the wake of four suicides among RCMP ranks and retirees so far this year — including the recent death of 51-year-old Ken Barker, who investigated a Greyhound bus beheading in Manitoba...


(Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News) — In the wake of four suicides among RCMP ranks and retirees so far this year — including the recent death of 51-year-old Ken Barker, who investigated a Greyhound bus beheading in Manitoba in 2008 — the organization has announced that it has begun tracking officer suicides.

The initiative is part of the force’s mental health strategy, launched on April 1. The RCMP, with the help of Great-West Life, its group life insurance provider, has counted a total of 31 serving or retired members who have taken their own lives since 2006.

“We have mandated every divisional occupational health office to look into all cases of suicide, to make sure that we have done everything that we could,” said Gilles Moreau, the RCMP’s assistant commissioner and main advocate for mental health issues.

The initiative is partly a response to frequent requests for statistics regarding suicides, Moreau explained. “With everything that is being written about post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues within the RCMP, but also within the Canadian Forces, within Canadian society as well, we felt it important to look at the rates of suicides within the organization.”

Great-West Life’s data provided the quantity of the suicides but not the causes. While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was believed to be a frequent cause, other mental health issues such as depression and anxiety were likely contributors as well, according to Moreau.

Lori Wilson, founder of grassroots organization Families of the RCMP for PTSD Awareness, applauded the RCMP’s efforts. “Any acknowledgement of what is going on is a step in the right direction,” she said.

Wilson established the organization last year after her husband, a former RCMP officer, struggled to find proper care for his own PTSD. After two-and-a-half years of unsuccessful treatment, Wilson’s husband was finally referred to an occupational stress injury clinic. Wilson then realized that more RCMP members and their families needed information on the condition.

Before the RCMP’s recent initiative, Wilson had written recommendations to the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs regarding PTSD within the force. Her recommendations dealt with prevention, maintenance, post-incident care and post-diagnosis care, calling for open acknowledgement of the condition and an end to stigma against it.

“The culture of the RCMP is mythological, almost,” Wilson said, referring to the force’s reputation for strength and heroism. “There’s that whole mentality, almost that you’re superhuman, and I think to lose that image is very hard for the RCMP. And that image doesn’t work when you’re doing policing today.”

Moreau agreed that the stigma was largely a cultural issue. “We’re driven to help others,” he said of police officers. “Sometimes, we’re our own worst enemy, not being able to help ourselves. And that’s just the nature of the job, having to be strong and having to be the one that’s leading when you’re getting to an accident scene.”

Another possible reason that it has taken so long for the RCMP to deal with this problem, Wilson suggested, is the size of its force. “It’s a huge organization, and any large organization is hard to change.”

Wilson reiterated her past recommendations that the RCMP needed to openly acknowledge the risks of PTSD in a healing, compassionate way, promoting resiliency and healthy coping mechanisms.

“It needs to become part of the norm,” she said. “They need to go back and retrain their supervisors that the human body and mind are still human, even if you’re a police officer.”

Moreau noted that the RCMP was actively promoting awareness of mental health issues in the police sector. “Managers, but also colleagues, are aware of the issues that are linked to mental illness and the importance of getting treatment,” he said. “That’s the big piece of the education that we are doing this year.”


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6 Comments » for RCMP has seen 31 officer suicides since 2006
  1. JUDITH HARROWER says:

    While it is a negative aspect of law enforcement that the number of suicides is that high, there are several contributing factors.
    The persistent attitude (culture) of the RCMP resulting in emotional turmoils leading to depression is that officers frequently make inappropriate decisions when dealing with what they perceived to be high stress situations. With mob like emotions and subsequent extreme actions civilians are often seriously wounded or killed when possessing a non-threatening weapon.
    Just in the years from 2010-2013 thirty-five civilians have been killed with a majority of these deaths completely avoideable. Officers react out of fear, panic, stress, lack of alternative methods in dealing with individuals in threatening situations. Officers subsequently after the fact acknowledge, are aware, or realize that they have murdered another individual and despite the backing of fellow officers, inquests that never find officers responsible for their decisions/actions many officers are unable to deal with the persistent residue guilt or negative public reactions.

    RCMP need to re-think their attitude, training, culture that emcompasses “DO AS I SAY” or else. Officers need to learn to use alternative means including “just backing off”, walking away, involving family/professionals in mitigating the situation rather than the macho image and fueling each other into negative reactions.

  2. Chris says:

    Judith, that has to be one of the most un intelligent points of view I have ever read on the issue of PTSD and officer suicide. Trauma is not guilt and anyone who views it as such has either lived a life on the wrong side of morality or one very sheltered from reality. All police forces and officers possess a do as I say mentality when confronted with a subject who displays behaviour which threatens the immediately safety of the public or police. Responding with lethal force to such situations is sometimes the only appropriate measure. People like you would have police say pretty please to gun and knife wielding suspects until the office lay dead in a pool of blood. To refer to officers as murderers and blame them for responding to such threats is utter nonsense in most every instance. Police are the good guys who dedicate their lives to serving and protecting the majority of good citizens from the minority of bad citizens. Unfortunately they often are exposed to scenes and events which are horrific and have damages effects on their health. Shame on you for blaming these heroes for their suffering.

  3. Doug Gordon says:

    You have made some good points Judith however I would be interested in knowing how long you have been a police officer. If not, don’t judge.

    Yes you do need to be a police officer to criticize there actions. Yes you do need to be there to determine if they made the right decision. I have been a police officer and have been dealing with PTSD for over 30 years. I never felt guilty for what I did except not getting to a crime or accident scene in time to prevent a death or injury. I never had to deal with mob like incuragement because I, not unlike most RCMP officers, worked mostly alone and needed to make snap decisions that could deal with the injury or death of myself or another person. Not once did i make a decision out of “fear, panic or stress.

    I did however deal with the death of 18 people in the span of only 24 months. That’s a beheading, incineration, crushing and varies other forms of death of 18 loved ones. Men, woman, and children. Old and young. I then had to go to their home and tell their spouse or parents that thier loved one was dead and had died in a very horrible way. I was then expected to go home as if nothing had happened.

    The people that form a inquest are not stupid or biased. They deal with the facts in a very therow and informed way. They don’t let police officers away with anything. After going over the “FACTS” that are not always covered by the news media and after many months or years they determine whether or not the police officer, fearing for their or someone elses life at that moment, made the right decision in just a few minutes or seconds.

    No officer pulls a gun and shoots someone because someone else incuraged them to do so. In most situations you cannot say “would you please put that gun/knife down so we can site and talk about this.” Or “you obviously need help, just stand there and I will get a psychologist to talk you out of killing your wife that you hold at gunpoint.” You give no credit to the thousands and thousands of situations that police officers do deal with that ends well without death or injury. The public never hears about them.

    I have known police officers that shot or shot at someone but every one of them had great remorse not because of what they did but because they were forced into taking leathal action.

    A large number of these officers suffering PTSD are not doing so out of guilt at what they have done but what has been done to them. Everything from being shot at, knifed, being invalved in hi-speed car crashes, watching disgusting child porn over many years in order to catch pedefials, dealing with spousal abuse or murders, dealing with serious or fatal motorvehicle accidents day after day, attending drowning scenes and recovering the decomposing body of a loved one and even being judged, belittled and shunned by the the people they are protecting.

    Do police officers need to be trained to deal with situations that could escalate, absolutely. Does the RCMP need to change their attitude in regards to PTSD, absolutely.

    These people are taking there own life not because they feel guilty but because they can’t sleep, enjoy time with there family, put there mariage back fogether or just general living without seeing vividly, in there head, these many obtrosities you have asked them to subject there mind and body to.

    This is not a “negative aspect” it is dealing with the lives and deaths of police officers that are doing very dangerous things so that the general public can be safe. Things that most people do not do, but run away from.

    We should be supporting these officers and getting them help before their world comes apart and the only way they can get piece is to take their own life.

    Only first responders are willing give their life up for their employer.

  4. bearmom says:

    Judith that’s a really myopic and general comment to make about a complex problem that involves many varied and complex scenarios. Your choice of wording is a little off too. Reread your comment and imagine being a post-incident officer reading what you just wrote…Many of the officers who have sadly committed suicide were not involved in “mob-like” behavior.

  5. Sharon says:

    “Great-West Life

  6. Jackie rae says:

    All police officers are human beings with feelings. You have to walk in their shoes to understand

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