First responders from across the country gathered in Calgary Thursday to talk about ways to reduce the risk of suicide among their ranks.

Calgary Police Service Chief Rick Hanson, who spoke at the conference, said three Calgary police officers have committed suicide since he took the top job in 2007.

“And frankly that’s three too many. And that’s with an immense amount of work that goes into efforts to develop programs to intervene at the earliest time,” he said.

One of the most difficult aspects of police work is the scrutiny constantly facing officers, their every decision evaluated and often second-guessed, he said.

The emotional weight of responding to violent crime and death also takes a toll, he said.

"The reality is it's a tough job,” Hanson said.

“The worrisome thing is, moving forward, the risk that it could be a growing issue. So it’s best addressed early and it’s best addressed with training and education and changing, as much as we can, the way we deal with issues in the workplace.”

Better understanding needed

Hanson said overall, there needs to be a better understanding of the psychology of suicide.

“The devastating effect of suicide can’t be underestimated, and I’m talking in the general population,” he said.

"Any call that a police officer goes to that's a suicide, you remember forever."

Conference speaker Maj. Adrian Norbash, a psychiatrist who is a clinical lead in mental health for the Canadian Forces, said it’s useful to view mental health as a continuum, not as two binary states — completely healthy or mentally ill.

“It’s a wide continuum, and at every point in that continuum we have an opportunity to change the trajectory of the person’s course,” he said.

Norbash has consulted with the Calgary Police Service for the past five years, to help the force improve its mental health programs and services.  

"Because of the size of the military and the resources that we have at hand, we can do this kind of work and share it with other organizations that may benefit,” he said.