Sudbury Police say mental health services crucial for first responders

The Greater Sudbury Police Service is hoping to see more support from the province towards mental health services for first responders.

Recent suicide of 5 Ontario officers sparks conversation about mental health

The recent suicides of five police officers in Ontario have put a spotlight on mental health support for first responders, including in Sudbury. (Yvon Theriault/CBC)

The Greater Sudbury Police Service is hoping to see more support from the province towards mental health services for first responders.

Mental health has been top of mind for many departments across Ontario, after the recent deaths of five officers.

According to the Police Association of Ontario (PAO), three OPP officers and two members of community police departments died by suicide in August.

"It gives you chills every time you hear of another officer or member of a police service losing their life, due to mental health or occupational stress, or linked to PTSD. It's a very real thing," Carrie-Lynn Hotson, the human resources manager for Sudbury police, said.

More funding needed

The deaths have prompted the PAO to call for more mandatory psychological testing for first responders in the province.

In Sudbury, Hotson said psychological pre-screening is mandatory for anyone applying to be an officer, special constable, auxilliary or 911 operator.

Personnel in high risk areas like the tactical, cybercrime and forensics units also receive annual psychological testing.

"While we encourage all of our other members to take advantage of our confidential support system, I hope that we can expand those services to more of our members if we get the correct funding," she said.

Hotson said mental health is a priority for the department, which offers tools and training as part of its PTSD prevention plan.

"We have given all members road to mental readiness training, which really teaches you about resiliency. It teaches you about some of the signs or symptoms that a person might be starting to suffer through an occupational stress injury."

Making strides

Officers and personnel are also encouraged to seek support through the Employee Assistance Program, a peer support team or the Sudbury Police Association.

Although the stigma of mental health and suicide continue to be a concern, Hotson said she has seen a lot of progress in her time with Sudbury police, with more and more people coming forward who may not have in the past.

"We're getting better and better at it," she said.

"We're trying to have early intervention and make sure that if we know there was a rough call that officers went on, or if the communicators had to take on the phone, or that the transcribers had to then transcribe for the court documents, that we get those people the services they need right away."