Support to prevent PTSD in police needed, says Chief Larkin

Proposed legislation would recognized post-traumatic stress disorder as a workplace-related illness in Ontario, but Waterloo Region's police chief says more can be done to prevent it in the first place.

It is key police address mental health before there are problems, Waterloo Region police chief says

(Colin Butler/CBC )

More can be done to prevent first responders from getting post-traumatic stress disorder, rather than waiting until treatment is necessary, Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin says.

"I think the tragedy in much of this for me is that when somebody is in some form of crisis within our organization or finds themselves mentally ill or something terrible happens, the water cooler talk or the talk in the boardroom is, 'Well, we could see this coming,'" Larkin said in an interview Wednesday morning with The Morning Edition host Craig Norris.

"I think when we hear those comments, we have failed," he said. "If the behaviour is predictable, it's preventable."

Proposed legislation from Toronto NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo would see Ontario recognize post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a workplace-related illness.The private member's bill, which has been introduced five times, will come up for debate in the legislature in February. If passed, Bill 2 would assume a first responder developed PTSD through their work and allow them to take medical leave, instead of requiring the employee to prove how they got it.

If behaviour is predictable, it's preventable.- Waterloo Region Police Chief Bryan Larkin

"I think it's both insulting and inaccurate to think that people will fake this any more than they would any physical illness," DiNovo told CBC News recently. "You can do everything you can to prevent it but it will still happen to a few — and we have to protect those few."

Local police get training

Alberta has had similar legislation since 2012 and a new law surrounding mental health and first-responders came into effect in Manitoba on Jan. 1.

Larkin said the introduction of the legislation has sparked some great discussion about what is needed, but the focus needs to be more on what can be done to mentally support police officers and other first responders in their jobs every day.

"The larger discussion for me is around prevention awareness and resiliency and how do we prevent individuals and first responders from getting to the point where legislation has to be enacted, " Larkin said.

He said legislation could lay the groundwork for mandatory resiliency training, wellness plans and peer support, although police in Ontario are already working to train all officers with the Road to Mental Readiness, a program developed by the Canadian Armed Forces.

"A lot of (the training program) is around peer recognition and supervisor recognition ... in the sense that, there's signs of distress, there's signs of challenges in people, that can go noticed but generally in the past have gone unchecked or we didn't provide our workplace members or supervisors the tools to notice or recognize them," Larkin said.

Mid-to-senior level managers within the Waterloo Region Police force have already received the training, he said, while the remaining members will start the program next week.

Much of the training will be erasing the stigma that police officers have to don a superhero costume, Larkin said.

"I think we're humanizing the profession. I think we're showing that we're normal people," Larkin said of recent efforts to deal with mental health in the force. "We have normal people doing an abnormal job."


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