Mental illness in the RCMP
The RCMP is coming under fire for failing to provide adequate mental health support to members dealing with traumatic situations on the job.
The criticism comes from those who have seen the toll on members firsthand, including widows, members, veterans and experts.
CBC News has spoken to more than a dozen RCMP members and veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and occupational stress injuries (OSIs), including three spouses who’ve lost their husbands to suicide.
Meet 7 officers who struggled with mental illness on the job
Martin Bouchard was a proud Mountie who served for 13 years.
He met his wife Krista on a blind date. She describes him as funny, a nerd in pants that were too short and a French accent no one could understand.
She said that she noticed a change in him after he was stationed in Shamattawa, a remote First Nation in Northern Manitoba.
He responded to violent incidences, suicides and he complained the detachment was understaffed.
He got a transfer to Alberta and Krista Bouchard hoped it would make a difference but instead things got more volatile at home. The couple had many angry screaming matches and he verbally lashed out at their two children. The couple eventually agreed to separate.
Bouchard got some help through RCMP therapists and was diagnosed with PTSD. His time in Shamattawa was partly to blame; he even had an axe thrown at him.
He spiralled downward and took his own life on November 8, 2012. He was 45.
His wife told CBC News she doesn’t want any other families to go through the same thing.
“Hopefully, the RCMP will see the importance of making changes to ensure that from their end, they can make as much change as possible,” she said.
Nova Scotia Staff Sgt. Murray Brown was with the RCMP for 38 years before retiring a little over a year ago.
He worked in criminal intelligence.
He was also the chairperson of the Members Occupational Health and Safety committee.
Brown says that the RCMP doesn’t really understand the complexity of PTSD and Occupational Stress Injury (OSI).
Brown has been involved in a number of cases but one stays with him—Judy Parks, a 14-year-old girl murdered in the 1970’s. He said the case still haunts him and it remains unsolved.
He said his PTSD started long before he sought treatment five years ago.
Part of the problem, Brown says, is the culture of the RCMP.
“The RCMP doesn’t really have a handle on it,” he told CBC News. “The membership should be educated to help the guys in the field.”
Many members he counselled with mental health issues are reluctant to report them because of limiting effect such a PTSD diagnosis would have on their career.
Murray Brown is now retired from the RCMP. He continues to advocate for RCMP veterans and current members.
Adrien Gulay and Linda Perchaluk met in small town Roblin, Manitoba eight years ago.
Gulay had just joined the RCMP, and Linda said it was his dream job.
Perchaluk describes Gulay as quiet- a gentle giant who loved to laze around on the weekend and he had a special affinity for animals.
He was growing weary of being on-call 24 hours a day on weekends. Even when he wasn’t on call, his wife said he would often stay up all night because he was concerned that only one officer was protecting the area.
Five years into his service, Gulay responded to a house call where a party was taking place and someone was thrown out the window.
He was covered in Hepatitis C tainted blood and waited six months to get the test results back.
Linda said that she lost him then, to alcohol, prescription drugs and depression.
He spiralled downward-giving away his possessions, threatening to kill himself at home but unwilling to admit how sick he was to the RCMP or his colleagues at work.
His wife wrote numerous faxes and made desperate phone calls, trying to get him help that she said never came.
“Get him admitted, he was on so much medication and alcohol,” She said. “He told me that he was trained to lie and when he goes to the appointments, he tells them what they want to hear.”
Gulay tried to take his life in January and Perchaluk hoped that it would be the red flag that would alert the RCMP to his real condition but it didn’t.
Adrien Gulay overdosed on pills and alcohol on August 21, 2013. He was 45 years old. He sent a text to his wife saying goodbye.
The RCMP launched a post-mortem investigation into his suicide.
Saskatchewan’s Kristine Lacelle started her career in the RCMP more than a decade ago as a regular duty officer.
She describes herself as one of those people that everyone brought their problems to growing up and she wanted to help others.
Three years ago, Lacelle joined a special unit investigating child pornography. She saw disturbing images for almost two years.
She found it difficult to get help because many other members who were looking at the same images went on stress leave or were transferred to other units.
Within months, she knew the material was having a serious effect on her. She was having flashbacks of the images and she was irritable and withdrawn at home.
She asked for an early mental health assessment, but she said she didn't get one for more than a year.
“I went to talk to someone and tell them I just honestly have no business carrying a gun on the street,” she told CBC News. “I was left to walk out the door and work for another three months.”
When Lacelle went on stress leave in 2011, she had to find her own way through the system- relying on a military friend to help her find the resources she needed.
Lacelle is in negotiations with the RCMP to arrange her discharge.
Catherine Mansley served as a regular duty RCMP officer in Halifax for 13 years.
She attended the Swiss Air crash and she saw bodies in the wreckage.
In 2009 after attending a sudden death, she experienced a major break down in her detachment office.
She was crying, distraught and she had been drinking-something she said helped her cope and kept her PTSD symptoms to a minimum.
Her colleagues didn’t know what to do with her so they called management who told them to send her home and make her call a good friend.
“Basically, what they did is send me right back to the place I had come from, looking for help,” she told CBC News.
Within two weeks of that breakdown, she was charged with impaired driving and charged with another incident two years later.
She was diagnosed with alcohol addiction and sent to rehab, but she said that was only half of her problem—the PTSD was still there and untreated.
Mansley was suspended over the impaired driving incidents. She said she got the diagnosis of PTSD from her own doctors and is committed to sobriety and recovery.
Judy MacDonald has been with the RCMP for almost 25 years.
Right out of depot training, she was posted in northern B.C., a place she describes as one of the most hostile postings in Canada.
She knew right from her first day that she was not handling the psychological stress of policing as she responded to numerous violent calls including suicides, assaults and car accidents.
An RCMP psychologist was sent up to her posting every six months but she said the RCMP knew she was having post-traumatic stress reactions and didn’t give her the support she needed.
After transferring to a specialized unit in Vancouver, she said things got much worse and she became suicidal during a confrontation on the job. She was trying to get the person to back off and it wasn’t in her nature to hurt someone else, so instead, she stabbed herself.
“I was sanctioned for conduct unbecoming for stabbing myself,” MacDonald told CBC news in an interview, “According to the RCMP’s own directives, I was suicidal.”
She knew she should be taken off duty but it would be another three years before she would go on stress leave due to PTSD. She said she eventually found her own way to the resources she needed.
MacDonald is currently negotiating leave from the RCMP but she feels she has at least 10 years left to give if they were willing to work with her.
Paul Smith was the Mountie that everyone could count on, according to his wife Paulette.
Smith was an officer for almost 19 years. He started in Truro, Nova Scotia, and was posted in the North and in Ottawa.
His wife told CBC News that she noticed a major change in him after he was assigned to the death of a toddler and the murder of a 19-year old girl.
“I asked him if he was okay, and he didn’t say anything,” she said.
The couple was posted to Northwest Territories where she said the detachment conditions were deplorable and that there was no one there to help them with their transition.
After weeks of not eating or sleeping, Smith was sent to health services in Edmonton, where Smith admitted to wanting to kill himself.
Health Services recommended that the couple be near family for support so they were sent to Ottawa where Smith’s brother lived.
Paul Smith was to continue treatment in Ottawa and he was told that he was fit for duty, though his wife said he wasn’t ready.
Smith shot and killed himself with his own service revolver on November 6, 2005. He was 42.
Mental Health conditions increasing within RCMP
Links to more information about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Occupational Stress Injury.
- PTSD Self Assessment Checklist
- Symptoms of PTSD
- Treatment of PTSD
- Services available to RCMP
- Operational Stress Injury Clinic
- Peer Support: Leave None Behind
- Disability Benefits
- 24-Hour Toll-Free Crisis Help Line
- Mental Health
- Operational Stress Injuries in the RCMP: It's Killing Us (PDF)
- In the Line of Duty (PDF)
Link to support forums and websites.