Stress disorder on rise in RCMP

The number of Mounties on disability for post-traumatic stress disorder has climbed significantly in the past decade, according to RCMP statistics obtained by CBC News.
RCMP officers examine the wreckage of a plane that crashed in Richmond, B.C., in July, killing two people. RCMP officers have increasingly been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, some afflicted after witnessing scenes like these. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The number of Mounties on disability for post-traumatic stress disorder has climbed significantly in the past decade, according to RCMP statistics obtained by CBC News.

Ten officers claimed partial or full disability for PTSD in 1999-2000, compared with 162 officers in 2007-08, the last year for which complete figures were available, according to figures from the RCMP's Statistics Directorate.

Stress in the RCMP

Number of members with PTSD, by year:

  • 1999-2000: 10
  • 2000-01: 64
  • 2001-02: 52
  • 2002-03: 125
  • 2003-04: 148
  • 2004-05: 182
  • 2005-06: 208
  • 2006-07: 165
  • 2007-08: 162

The number of officers on disability for PTSD spiked as high as 208 in 2005-06.

One officer, whose identity has been withheld because he fears reprisal, was diagnosed with PTSD three years ago. He says his trouble began at one of his first assignments 20 years ago. He was called to a home to help a heart attack patient and ended up being attacked by a man.

When he subdued the man, he noticed the man's dead wife lying on the floor nearby, her body badly beaten. There was blood everywhere.

The officer, traumatized, went to his supervisor to discuss the disturbing scene he witnessed.

"The answer was, if I couldn't deal, I was going to have to leave the RCMP because I was going to see some more of these kinds of events. It was just normal," he said.

"I was hoping to find guidance or comfort, especially after a traumatic event like this … and I was told not to say anything and, sorry for the expression, but to suck it up and keep doing my job."

After seeing this type of violence again and again, the officer says he turned to alcohol and had trouble sleeping. He didn't like the person he was becoming, and finally went to a doctor, who diagnosed him with the stress disorder. 

He was unable to work for two years, although he has now returned to work on a part-time basis.

Cpl. Dave Gibbs has been haunted by scenes of body parts and gore that he's encountered on the job. ((CBC))

Staff-Sgt. Jeff Morley, part of a team of senior RCMP managers looking into the issue of PTSD in the force, said the RCMP is well aware of the problem, although the force has just begun to study where it's occurring and whom it's affecting.

Morley said the increase in the number of officers on disability for PTSD can be attributed to the fact that there's less stigma about having the disorder. Officers are more willing to come forward.

"If our people are burnt out, stressed out and face the added trauma of PTSD, that's a very difficult combination," he said.

Some RCMP officers blame the situation on staff shortages and workloads.

Cpl. Dave Gibbs, who has banked 600 hours of overtime, says he finds his work rewarding, but feels he doesn't have adequate support. He's the only collision reconstructionist in Fort McMurray, Alta., and has requested backup, which is always denied.

"It's 24/7, 365 [days a year] unless I'm out of town or on a course, or I get holidays and leave town," he said. "If I have holidays and I stay in town, I will get a phone call at home … because the next nearest person is at least five hours away."

Gibbs worries he has PTSD. Revisiting crash scenes with the families of the deceased is one of the most difficult parts of his job. Scenes of body parts and other gore haunt Gibbs, who has been on the force for more than 12 years.

"I'll have two or three major fatal collisions in one day," he said, adding that one year he handled 163 cases, which far exceeds the 48 he's supposed to handle. "You just keep going from one to the next to the next to the next."

"I have times where I feel that I'm probably fighting depression … because I have times where I want nothing to do with anybody, including at home," said Gibbs, who has completed three years of a five-year posting. "I just want to be left alone. Just leave me alone so I can tune out."