In a recent report, that was a result of a comprehensive 7 year survey to Canadian Police organizations, the Mental Health Commission of Canada commended the Edmonton Police Service for how its officers deal with people in crisis, and experiencing mental health distress.
According to the report, the Edmonton Police Service’s curriculum includes dedicated mental health training, communication skills, crisis management, stress and human relations, and control tactics – totalling approximately 52 hours of the total training course. The training includes thorough coverage of signs and symptoms of a number of structured scenarios which ensure active problem solving.
One of the services provided began in 2004 as a partnership between the Edmonton Police Service and Alberta Health Services – it’s called Police and Crisis Team (PACT). A police officer is paired with a mental health therapist or psychiatric nurse and together they respond to issues involving adults with mental health issues. There are 4 teams of two, which allows them to provide help more quickly to the person in need. Currently the team responds to at least 2-3 calls a day.
However, what about if the officer themselves is dealing with mental health issues due to the stress of their job? Maurice Brodeur (President of the Edmonton Police Association) was quoted in the Edmonton Sun noting that mental health problems are an ongoing difficulty for police officers. Unfortunately, this is not surprising.
Police officers have incredibly stressful jobs fraught with risk factors for developing addictions and mental health problems. In addition to stressful work environments (long hours, lack of resources, challenging a culture of silence), there are daily challenges of attempting to maintain a healthy mental balance. This is very difficult given the witnessing of human tragedy, the danger of physical and psychological abuse, a structured hierarchical environment, public exposure and scrutiny, and personal liability and accountability for all actions. Not surprisingly police officers are at risk of developing depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, and issues with addiction. Canadian studies show that between 7-19% of police officers suffer from PTSD, 34% display burn out symptoms, and 40% experience sleep disorders. These numbers become even higher in studies in which the participants are anonymous.
Of even greater concern is the growing number police officers who have died by suicide. For example, the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization in Ontario that works to raise awareness of the mental health concerns faced by first responders, began logging police suicides in late April of 2014. In just over 5 months, the group recorded 12 instances where actively serving officers took their own lives. Tema Executive Director Vince Savoia said the numbers are comparable to those in the military; in a three month stretch from November 2013 to February 2014 the military recorded 10 confirmed suicides.
So what will help? Taking a course like Mental Health First Aid, that is aimed at educating people about mental health problems, and eliminating stigma is an excellent first step. This can raise awareness and help us to notice signs and symptoms in our colleagues who may need intervention. The hope is that it will also help us to more openly talk about mental health issues and problems without fear of repercussion or judgment. There are also many counselling options available for those seeking treatment in the areas of anxiety, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder. It is critical to seek help before the problem becomes unbearable or too overwhelming to handle.
For more information, to book Mental Health First Aid Training, or to book an appointment please do not hesitate to contact me.