RCMP needs better mental health help, Alberta widow says
Krista Bouchard lost her husband last year, but has joined the fight to bring awareness to the issue
An Alberta widow says the RCMP should have done more to help her former husband who was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Const. Martin Bouchard, 45, killed himself last November.
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Krista Bouchard says the events and people he dealt with as a RCMP officer took a toll. She said she noticed a change in him after he was stationed in Shamattawa, a remote First Nation in northern Manitoba.
"Initially he was so sociable and so funny — that's what I fell in love with. And then PTSD really started to set in about six years into our marriage," she said.
She blamed his work for a lot of what was causing his anger and the depression that ultimately led to his suicide.
"Having an axe thrown at you when you go to a call, having a baby placed under your tire. Being in fights knowing that this could be your last breath — too many close calls," she said.
He responded to violent incidences and suicides, and complained the detachment was understaffed.
He got a transfer to Alberta and Krista 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.
She doesn’t want any other families to go through the same thing.
She is among widows, experts and members critical of the way the force deals with mental health in its ranks.
Mental health issues spike in past 5 years
“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.
Statistics show the number of RCMP members and veterans receiving disability pensions for mental health issues has almost doubled in the last five years. It is believed many officers still choose to suffer in silence.
Some point to a stigma against admitting the need help in an organization that prides itself on strength and heroism.
"There is a culture that is replete with toxicity, high levels of employee stress and fear — a culture of fear that needs to change before members feel like the organization is caring and supportive," said clinical psychologist Dr. Mike Webster.
RCMP officials say it's up to members to call their employee assistance program, but believe the numbers of those seeking help may have doubled for different reasons.
Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau says awareness is on the rise and the stigma is going away so that members see they can access help without negative affects on their careers.
"We haven't completely changed our culture, but I can tell you that it is changing and it is evolving," he said.
But Krista is among those saying the RCMP needs to do more to reach out to those who are suffering.
"Make it part of life," she said. "If you break an arm, it's acceptable. If you're breaking down because of trauma, it's acceptable."
The RCMP says it investigates every suicide and suicide attempt and it's working to identify high-risk factors that might push someone to kill themselves to help prevent it in the future.