Fredericton Police Force tackling PTSD among officers
Two Fredericton officers have gone public with their struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder
Two Fredericton police officers have recently said publicly that they have post-traumatic stress disorder, an issue that the force is trying to tackle within its ranks.
Cpl. Lou LaFleur revealed in an interview he often goes for long walks because he says they help him cope with his PTSD.
Another PTSD admission came from Cpl. Dwight Doyle when he was testifying at a disciplinary hearing that led to the dismissal of co-worker Const. Jeff Smiley.
Under questioning, Doyle agreed that he was "overwhelmed" the night of Smiley's arrest because earlier in the day "There was a situation on the trail where I almost shot someone."
Both LaFleur and Doyle are still working for the Fredericton Police Force.
Back on job quickly
Sgt. Bobbi Simmons-Beauchamp, who is a trainer with Road to Mental Readiness program for the Fredericton Police Force, says the department tries to get officers who have been treated for mental illness back on the job quickly.
"One of things that is important to note about PTSD, is that the longer people are away from their work, the harder it is to come back," says Simmons-Beauchamp.
But Simmons-Beauchamp says she knows the struggles first-hand.
"As a member of the Fredericton Police Force, as a member who has had mental illness issues, when it's been diagnosed, there has to be a medical doctor involved, there has to be a plan put in place to help you come back to work in a meaningful way," she says.
"If it's too stressful for you to be on the front line, what else can we do for you to help you come back to work."
Simmons-Beauchamp says the force has come a long way in the past two years in dealing up front with PTSD and what might lead to it.
If it's too stressful for you to be on the front line, what else can we do for you to help you come back to work.- Sgt. Bobbi Simmons-Beauchamp, Fredeirton police
She is a trainer for what is called the Road to Mental Readiness program. It offers strategies to make officers "more resilient" to stress, teaching techniques for calming themselves and mentally preparing to enter a scene.
Officers and their families, she says, can access counselling. There's even a yoga program.
Simmons-Beauchamp says taking the program is mandatory for staff, every two years, just like first aid training.
There is also a critical incident stress team that can meet with officers after a particularly disturbing incident, to talk.
Can't be 'talked through it'
Joan Wright, a psychologist who deals with many patients with PTSD, says psychologists are now realizing those with PTSD often can't be 'talked through it' – or at least, not at first.
"With these officers, their brains are in a terrorized state. They've seen some pretty crappy things and it's gotten stuck, it's like it's on pause, in their brains," she said.
"And to try and say, 'No, it's over, it's over' – they already know it's over. But it doesn't feel like it's over. So we have to help the body actually feel like it's over, before we can actually integrate it with mind therapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy. "
Ideally, she says, it should be routine for police officers to be checked on after any traumatic incident, that they need to know the signs so they don't just "suck it up" and that they need to be watching out for each other's mental health.
"It's wonderful that somebody comes into my office, but that can be months later. I don't see these people when it happens, but their chiefs do, and their peers do," she said.
"If those people can be educated in knowing what to look for, if it can be normalized, that is doesn't mean there's anything 'bad,' it's just 'We're going to fix it.' And the sooner we catch it, the better, before the infection sets in."