London Police Service has a new psychologist. Are officers taking advantage?

Dr. Mustaq Khan began working at the end of November. He says there is still a stigma around mental illness within the ranks.

Dr. Mustaq Khan has been in the position for about six months

Dr. Mustaq Khan says he's been seeing fewer police officers during the pandemic. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

Last November, London psychologist Dr. Mustaq Khan moved from his position at St. Joseph's Healthcare to join the team at the London Police Service. He is the first full-time, in-house psychologist with the service.

CBC London spoke to Dr. Khan earlier. Here's part of that conversation. 

Tell us how your job has been over the last number of months?

The original aim was to oversee the mental health of all members. And with the pandemic, we're having additional stresses. Everyone's going through this trying to adjust to the health and economic situation out there.

What kinds of issues then, are police officers coming to you with?

You know it's funny. They're not coming to me as much now as they did before and my guess is it's because they're too busy trying to adjust their personal lives, their families, the way they go out in public and it could be that the other issues are in the back burner for now, because this is a sudden, major societal adjustment.

When you were first hired, what was the impetus for that? Why did they want to bring you in?

Dr. Mustaq Khan joined the London Police Service as the first-ever psychologist. (St. Joseph Health Care Centre)

There's been statistics showing that there's a higher rate of mental health problems among first responders in general, compared to the population. And I think it must have been a year and a half ago, the London Police Services Board put this motion forward to city hall to get a fulltime in-house psychologist at LPS. 

Before the pandemic hit, were you finding that police officers were willing to come and talk to a psychologist?

There is this cultural reluctance to seek help because that could be seen as police officers as a sign of weakness. It's been difficult. They have not been as eager to come and see me. At first they were being sent by their supervisors to see me but then I noticed after about two to three months into the job, I was getting more members coming to see me on their own. And the common issues would be exactly what the literature talks about with first responders. Mostly anxiety, depression and especially traumatic stress disorders and there's also typical coping using alcohol.

Why is it important for police officer to have access like you? What difference can it make?

We can catch problems early on before they get out of hand and become more difficult to treat or even before they start to damage the member's life. By having me in-house, we're trying to break down that stigma that mental health is something to be pushed outside of the workplace and have it hidden from view.  

And so many officers would you see in a day, for instance?

It was irregular. Some weeks I would have maybe two or three a day. But then some weeks, I would go one or two every couple of days. The most consistent traffic has been for the assessments, the psych evaluations. The psych evaluations would be for members who are in what are classified as the high risk positions, such as members working in major crime, child exploitation, things like that. There's a mandatory interval during which they have to be re-evaluated to make sure they're doing well and to continue safely in the duties.

After having worked for a number of months, do you get the sense that there is much work to be done among the officers, or does the service have a good handle on mental health and its officers?

The chief and deputy chief are highly supportive. I can't see any problem from within the organization. They're very supportive of the work I do and of the members. It's just that there's that stigma among the culture about seeking help.