Former Mountie says force lacks mental health support
A former RCMP officer from the Northwest Territories says he may have stayed with the force if he had gotten better mental health support.
New statistics from Veterans' Affairs Canada show the number of RCMP officers on disability pension for mental health problems has doubled in the last five years, and officers who face stressful situations on a daily basis don't always get the help they need.
Steve Norn is from Fort Resolution, N.W.T. He joined the RCMP when he was 20, lured by the excitement of law enforcement.
His first job was on a First Nations reserve in northern Saskatchewan where his enthusiasm quickly got a harsh dose of reality.
"You're constantly on call," he said. "You get calls all hours of the night. I was sleep deprived."
Norn worked up to 20 hours a day, mostly on his own. He dealt with other people's problems and sometimes deaths.
"You see people soon afterwards and you go to the morgues afterwards," he said. "At the time you don't think too much about it, because you try to be professional, but at the same time I think there's some after effects too, because we're all human."
The stress took its toll.
"I turned to alcohol and it took me a long time to shake that because I did drink to excess," he said.
Norn says he asked for time off, but was refused.
"I still remember asking for some holiday time — I just needed to step away — and they're like, 'No, you need to stay at your posting. You sign on to do the job, this is part of the job.'"
In isolated regions, there may be only two or three officers. Getting back-up and relief can take hours. This is why the RCMP say they're careful about who they send to that kind of post.
"Prior to being transferred to any of the territories they do have a quite an exhaustive medical and psychological evaluation and their file is reviewed from the beginning of when they joined the RCMP, to make sure they're in good health both physically and mentally," said RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau.
Moreau says officers can call a psychologist if their job is getting to them. He encourages officers to talk to their partners if they feel stress and to tell their supervisors. And if that doesn't work, call someone higher up.
As for Norn, he quit the force after two years. He says he still has flashbacks but now he's seeing a mental health professional to cope — and has quit drinking.