Canadian police joined other employers in tackling depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to save officers' lives.

Three national police groups said mental health topped the agenda at their joint meeting in Ottawa on Thursday.

"What we want to do is save our members' lives," Canadian Police Association president Charles Momy said at a news conference on Parliament Hill.

The groups want police services to increase awareness and help officers, colleagues and families to receive support when an officer commits suicide or faces difficult times, said Ivan Court, president of the Canadian Association of Police Boards.

"It's happening in many other sectors across Canada, so it only makes sense to be moving in that direction, particularly in a profession like policing with its unique challenges and stresses," said Court.

Momy spoke of talking to an officer last week who was unaware that he was suffering PTSD for a year after returning from a UN mission to Haiti. The case brought home the need to do more, particularly as more police members go overseas, he said.

Police are working on new guidelines known as COPS — care, outreach, prevention, support. By combining those four elements with research, good management, awareness and education, the groups aim to "tame the crisis," said Bill Wilkerson, co-founder of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health.

The police move puts mental health issues squarely in front of the public as other employers get involved, said Wilkerson, who also serves as mental health adviser to the RCMP.

PTSD is twice as prevalent in the police population than for the rest of society, Wilkerson said. Depression rates are about the same, 10 to 15 per cent, he added in calling depression "perhaps the single greatest public health threat today."