OTTAWA -- The RCMP is failing to meet the mental health needs of its members due to a lack of resources, poor monitoring and meagre support from supervisors, says the federal spending watchdog.

While the Mounties were among the first federal organizations to introduce a mental health strategy, they did not make its full implementation a priority, auditor general Michael Ferguson says in a report tabled Tuesday.

Some RCMP members even told the auditor that coming forward with mental health concerns led to reprisals from bosses.

The findings come one day after a pair of sharply worded federal reviews on harassment in the RCMP called for greater civilian oversight and expertise to ensure the national police force is a healthy and respectful employer.

Ferguson's report says that although more than half of members received easy and timely access to the mental health they needed, one in six members did not. In more than one-quarter of cases, the RCMP did not even have records that would allow the auditor to assess whether members got the help they required.

In addition, supervisors and health services staff didn't properly support members returning to duties from mental health sick leave, the auditor says. One in five members who sought services did not resume work or was discharged.

"These findings matter because the RCMP is only as strong as its members," the report says.

Festering mental health issues can lead to increased absenteeism, workplace conflict, high turnover, low productivity and increased use of disability and health benefits, the auditor notes.

"Ultimately, members' poor mental health affects the RCMP's capacity to serve and protect Canadians."

RCMP management agreed with the auditor's recommendations to help fulfil the force's mental health strategy.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the police force had already taken steps to address some of the recommendations. In addition, he noted the government is working on a co-ordinated strategy on post-traumatic stress injuries.

The opposition New Democrats blamed the government for failing to address the mental health needs of RCMP members, calling it a disgrace.

Ensuring the success of the force's mental health strategy would send a message not only to the Mounties but to the public service as a whole that when the government says mental health services are important, "they're actually going to back that up," Ferguson told a news conference.

"I think that this is an issue that goes beyond the RCMP."

The force, which has 29,000 employees, estimated last September that about 900 regular and civilian members were on sick leave, the report says. However, the Mounties could not say how many were on leave for mental health reasons because the organization did not collect and report such information.

Coming up with that number would mean sifting through paper files, the auditor was told.

Ferguson found the RCMP failed to:

  • Put a business plan in place or allocate resources to support its mental health strategy, meaning programs for early detection and intervention were delayed.
  • Ensure health services offices in all divisions had the capacity to manage members' cases.
  • Provide timely access to mental health treatment for all members.
  • Support its members on off-duty sick leave or adequately accommodate their return to work.

A survey conducted by the auditor general revealed that many members were reluctant to seek help for mental health conditions because they were worried it would negatively affect their careers.

Some members told the auditor in interviews that when they came forward they felt that they were not believed and were labelled fakers, subjected to reprisals from their supervisors or socially isolated in the workplace.

A number said they were not offered meaningful work when they returned from sick leave, or believed the organization was encouraging them to accept a medical discharge.

Mental health is a complex matter, and it is neither reasonable nor desirable to expect that all members with mental health conditions will continue to work or return to regular operational duties, the report says.

"However, it is our view that the RCMP could be doing much more to facilitate a member's return to regular duties."