'It's about time': Mountie says attention to mental health overdue

A decade-long study on mental health issues in Mounties is welcome, but should have been undertaken sooner, the president of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada says.

Proposed RCMP study would examine 960 volunteers over 10 years

The study requires 960 participants and would take place at the RCMP training depot in Regina. The findings would be funnelled to Ottawa, according to the proposal. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

An intensive study of mental health issues among Mounties is necessary and overdue, says an advocate for RCMP officers. 

The RCMP plan to launch a study into the mental and physiological markers for depression, addictions and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in its officers.

"It's about time," said Const. L.P. Theriault, president of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada.

"Members have been losing their jobs and losing their lives for a while now, and all of a sudden we wake up." 

The study would follow the same RCMP members over a period of 10 years, beginning when they are cadets. 

Research would be used to develop "innovative evidence-based interventions to increase resiliency and to deliver preemptive interventions to protect the mental health of police officers," an RCMP spokesperson told CBC News in an email.

In the study, specialists would collaborate with the RCMP in an experimental study that would follow the same people for 10 years. (CBC)

Theriault welcomes the study, but said it should have been done sooner. He joined the RCMP in 2008, and said even then members were talking about — and leaving the force because of — PTSD. 

In 2016, the RCMP said 249 new long-term disability claims had been filed, and of those 46.9 per cent cited mental health issues, an increase of five per cent over 2014. 

Theriault said the stigma associated with PTSD or operation stress injury is less present than it used to be.

"Before it was: 'You're a Mountie. You're tough. You're not going to talk about those things, just get over it,'" he said. "The stigma is slowly going away, but it's not gone yet."

Calls for more targeted treatment 

Theriault said there are only a handful of treatment centres in the country that are specifically designed for Mounties and first responders.

He said "mixed treatment centres" are less effective in treating the unique issues faced by frontline workers, who are exposed to tragedy, such as accidents, child death, rape and murder, on a daily basis. 

"For some members, it's hard to bear that weight for a long period of time," he said. 

"Every year we don't get those treatment centres we're going to keep losing members," he said, speaking of Mounties with PTSD who committed suicide. 

An RCMP spokesperson said in an email that the organization recognizes the "importance of the mental health and has various prevention and intervention measures in place to improve psychological health and safety for all of its employees. 

"Despite these measures, the RCMP continues to lose the services of many members as a result of mental health related issues."

They also cited a study out of the University of British Columbia that found that emergency personnel, including police, experience PTSD at twice the rate of the average population.

Theriault said the RCMP has made some progress when it comes to mental health, citing the Road to Mental Readiness program for first responders meant to combat mental illness, launched in 2015. The mandatory program teaches people about "normal reactions to stress, and how to manage their reactions to it."

He said this study would be another positive step when it comes to the mental health of Mounties. 

"I think we're moving in the right direction," he said. "I wish we could move faster."

The study would be conducted at the RCMP training depot in Regina. (CBC)

The RCMP's human resources research review board will need to sign off on the research plan to ensure it meets ethical standards before the study can begin. 

It has been discussed for more than three years and "the work to prepare for the procurement of this project has been ongoing for 15 months," the RCMP spokesperson said. 

They could not provide the proposed budget of the study, as they are currently soliciting proposals for the contract.

with files from Stephanie Taylor