From depression to addiction, Ontario’s ombudsman says provincial police are not sufficiently responding to psychological issues that officers might experience due to on-the-job stress.

An investigation carried out by Ombudsman Andre Marin found that Ontario Provincial Police officers who suffer psychological disorders often receive little-to-no support.

Marin’s report, titled In the Line of Duty and released Wednesday, indicates that the OPP only has one staff psychologist to serve the entire province. What’s more, the psychologist does not diagnose officers or track how many have sought help through the employee-assistance program.

Marin’s investigation explores the OPP’s history of “operational stress injuries” – a term that can refer to various psychological difficulties ranging from addiction to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“When we began our research,we were struck by the lack of information available,” Marin told reporters at a news conference in Toronto.

He said his team was able to determine that 23 active and retired OPP members have killed themselves since 1989, with five of those suicides occurring in the past 18 months alone.

Marin acknowledges it is difficult to know the “full circumstances” surrounding the 23 deaths and the “extent to which the policing profession contributed to them.” Still, he maintains that provincial police are subject to a “suck it up and be strong” culture that indirectly encourages officers to bury their feelings rather than seek help.

“They battle a bureaucratic structure that’s so behind the times, that doesn’t have any idea of how many of them have this kind of injury, or even how many of them has killed themselves,” said Marin.

By his estimate, the OPP has spent nearly $3.5 million over the last six years compensating officers for more than 100 claims related to psychological injuries.

Marin said he presented both the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services with the results of his report in August.

He said the OPP had five weeks to view the recommendations and responded with “platitudes” while the ministry’s response was “simply indifferent.”

“I remain disappointed by what still looks to me like a bureaucratic brushoff,” said Marin.

Marin’s report makes 34 recommendations to prevent operational stress injuries and to improve the OPP’s response to those that do arise. These recommendations include:

  • Finding a way to make mental-health support accessible to retired officers
  • Creating a community referral list of mental-health resources
  • Reviewing the position of the OPP staff psychologist
  • Considering the development of “internal peer support teams”
  • Consulting experts outside of the force about on-the-job stressors

“This is about supporting the people who put their lives on the line in the most difficult kind of public service,” said Marin. “It’s hard to think of a better public investment.”