'Our minds can only take so much': RCMP officer suffered with PTSD for years
TORONTO -- A Halifax RCMP sergeant who spent years suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder is speaking out about a worsening crisis among first responders.
“We don’t have to suffer in silence. I just want RCMP officers and first responders to know it’s OK to be injured at work. And it’s OK to seek help and it’s OK to take time to heal,” RCMP Sgt. Joe Taplin told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.
Taplin said he suffered with untreated PTSD for close to 25 years but didn’t seek help because he was afraid that others would see him as weak. “It was hard to live with,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a sign of weakness. Our minds can only take so much.”
When it came to how he expressed and dealt with his trauma, he said he would "go home and isolate myself in the basement and kind of stay away from my family.”
He also would come up with excuses not to go out with his wife and family. His behaviour led to him turning to alcohol and his first marriage ending in divorce.
“The ones who suffered the most were my children and my wife because my anger seemed to be taken out on the ones (I) loved and trusted the most,” he said.
SMELL OF SMOKE REMINDS HIM OF BURNING FLESH
Although his particular trigger is smoke, other officers have different triggers related to their particular traumatizing incident. For Taplin, the smell brings up painful memories of burning flesh.
It takes him back to early in his career, in the 1990s when he was stationed in northern Alberta. It reminds him of when he responded to a call of a young man who fell into a campfire and died, and another incident of a fiery car crash which involved the death of a young family.
Taplin, who has worked as an RCMP spokesperson, estimates he’s handled 4,000 incidents, including murders, sexual assaults of children and horrific car and plane crashes.
“These brought up a lot of struggles for me,” Taplin said.
“I know back then there were no programs or none really available for me at the time,” he said. But everything turned around for him five years ago.
Taplin suffered a mental breakdown and confided in “the right person” who recommended he see a psychologist to help him figure out how to deal with his trauma. “She’s been a godsend, really, helping with coping skills … and she’s really helped me get back on the road again,” he said.
TAPLIN: 'WE DON’T NEED TO SUFFER IN SILENCE'
But he is far from alone. According to the latest stats from the RCMP, 12 members and 10 retirees have died by suicide since 2014.
And according to a veterans ombudsman review, as of June 2015, 3,581 RCMP members were receiving disability pensions for psychiatric disability (including PTSD). In fact, 38 per cent of regular and civilian members cited mental health as the reason for their long-term sick leave, according to a recent RCMP audit of long-term sick leave within the Regular and Civilian Member population.
Taplin is part of a growing chorus of fellow RCMP officers speaking publicly about their struggles with PTSD from incidents on the job.
Earlier this year, Jason Gillis, a former RCMP constable in Prince George, B.C., joined RCMP Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound who had also been speaking about PTSD. Gillis took leave from his post but he’d felt pressure to return to work.
And in Pound’s case, the former spokesperson for the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, claimed the RCMP hindered her ability to seek recovery.
To combat this, the RCMP has pledged to hire 14 additional psychologists to develop an early detection and intervention program by next spring.
“It’s very encouraging to see they’re starting to be more engaged with the members and worrying about our well-being,” Taplin said.