Officer's widow pleased with recommendations to stem police suicides

Sarah Routhier welcomes a call for more resources and less stigma for police officers dealing with mental health issues.

Sarah Routhier says her husband didn't have specialized help

Sarah Routhier said she welcomes the coroner's panel report and hopes action is taken on its recommendations. (CBC)

Sarah Routhier vividly remembers the moment last year two OPP officers told her their colleague and her husband Sylvain Routhier had killed himself. 

"It was probably the most devastating moment of my life and is obviously very difficult," she said Wednesday.

"I think about that moment every time I hear about other first responder suicides." 

Sylvain Routhier was a sergeant with the OPP and a member of the force for 13 years when he died in 2018 in Belleville, Ont.

More than a dozen OPP officers have killed themselves in the last decade.

On Wednesday, a panel assembled by Ontario's chief coroner released a report on police suicide calling for an end to the stigma around mental health, from before officers are recruited through basic training and their careers. 

It also called for access to quality care for officers with mental health professionals who have knowledge of policing and trauma. 

"We didn't have the option to see a clinician that specializes in first responders," Routhier said.

Sylvain Routhier left behind his wife Sarah and three children. (Sarah Routhier)

She said the report touches on all of the issues she believes need to improve.  

"I am thankful for the report coming out and I am hopeful to see the changes come in the next little while," she said.

Better staffing

The report also calls for police to have enough staff so officers can take the time they need to deal with mental health issues.

Routhier said that was a major concern for her husband.

"He felt ashamed that he was off work and he had to leave his shift short when he wasn't at work."

She said officers need to know they have support and resources available.  

"They need to know it is OK to stop, slow down, speak to counsellors and seek help about it."

Program coming 

Rob Jamieson, president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association, agrees with the need to end the stigma.  

"We have to make it OK for people to realize that it's OK to put your hand up and say you need help," he said.

OPP union president Rob Jamieson said a new program to support officers is coming forward soon. (CBC)

Jamieson said the association is working on a program for officers dealing with mental health issues that they hope to have in place before the end of the year. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the OPP said the the force had done an internal review of suicides.

She said the force would review all of the recommendations from the coroner's panel and work with partners to improve support to officers. 

Need help? Here are some mental health resources in the National Capital Region:

  • Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Ottawa Suicide Prevention: 613-238-3311