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Changes needed to ensure safer, more resilient RCMP, union mental-health report says

An RCMP patch is seen on the shoulder of an assistant commissioner, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, April 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck An RCMP patch is seen on the shoulder of an assistant commissioner, in Surrey, B.C., on Friday, April 28, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
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OTTAWA -

The union representing front-line Mounties is urging the RCMP to move beyond "patchwork solutions" to ensure the mental health of officers amid concerns they face increasing risks to their well-being.

In a new report, the National Police Federation calls on the RCMP to fully implement its employee well-being strategy, institute regular psychological health screening and make it simpler to access mental-health supports.

The federation released the report, Behind the Badge, at a breakfast meeting in Ottawa on Tuesday.

The report says RCMP members are confronted daily with a myriad of stressors, risks and emotionally taxing situations that invariably take a toll on their psychological health.

It highlights the fact the very nature of their profession exposes them to violence, trauma, high-pressure situations and a relentless demand for vigilance.

The report says this is compounded by everyday sources of stress, such as negative comments from the public, fatigue, staff shortages, lack of resources and bureaucratic red tape.

RCMP officers face stigma related to psychological health issues and a lack of comprehensive and accessible mental-health services and supports, the report adds.

Over time, these factors have been shown to accumulate and lead to an array of mental-health challenges -- from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression to anxiety and a heightened risk of suicidal behaviour, it says.

"The urgent need for increased government investment in mental-health guidance, training, and treatment programs for police officers, especially within the RCMP, is paramount."

The report includes the results of a survey by the federation and the University of Regina of a representative sample of RCMP members from June 2022 to February 2023.

It found members were six times as likely as the general population to screen positive for any mental-health disorder. Such figures are considered indicators, not actual diagnoses that require clinical interviews with supporting information.

Members were also far more likely than the general population to have contemplated or planned a suicide in the last year.

"The type of work we do isn't easy," RCMP commissioner Mike Duheme told the breakfast meeting. "It requires strength in all forms, and it takes a whole lot of support."

Duheme said the force was "taking a more holistic approach to mental health as an organization."

The report says the RCMP's employee well-being strategy for 2021 to 2024 put forward "several promising initiatives."

However, the national police force must do more by providing "a step-by-step approach" to address the current reality members face, the report adds.

"This plan ought to be transparent and the RCMP should update on its progress regularly."

As the recent well-being strategy is nearing its end, the federal auditor general should perform and publish an audit of the strategy, the report says.

It also calls for the RCMP to immediately fully staff all occupational health services offices, saying personnel shortages or limited availability of services leave many members "waiting far too long before receiving the help they need."

Among the other recommendations:

  • immediately address "financial and logistical barriers" to fully implementing the RCMP's periodic psychological health screening program, to help identify post-traumatic stress injuries early on;
  • once the program is fully in place and all members have received a screening, require them to have one annually;
  • and implement mandatory wellness psychological training for officers.

The report acknowledges the RCMP has made significant strides in offering and supporting programs aimed at restorative mental-health support and treatment, as well as offering a variety of benefits with regard to occupational injuries and supplementary mental-health benefits.

However, the various mental-health supports and programs for members can be difficult to navigate, leaving them overwhelmed and unsupported, the report found.

"What is evident is that bureaucratic processes, stigmatization, and distrust of the RCMP as a health-care provider has resulted in an inefficient mental health support system and low access."

Investing in comprehensive mental-health initiatives can create a safer, healthier and more resilient police workforce, ensuring members "receive the care and guidance they rightfully deserve," the report says.

"In doing so, we contribute to the overall well-being of officers and the effectiveness of policing, which ultimately benefits society."

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