Toronto

First of its kind mental health app for police officers launches in Halton Region

A new app for Halton Region Police Service members includes contacts, mental health tips, and details a number of common issues from anger to alcohol abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

BackUp Buddy offers mental health resources for officers, their families and retirees

Halton Regional Police Service hopes its new mental health app will help its officers seek support. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

They are the ones who answer calls for help — witnessing some of the worst kinds of trauma, often on a daily basis.

And while many officers say there's been a cultural shift around police and mental health, many still struggle with how to manage that stress.

Now, there's a new app available for police in Halton Region aimed at helping them cope.

It's called Backup Buddy and it's the first of its kind designed for police services in Canada, according to Deputy Chief Jeff Hill.

"You can see that in the privacy of wherever you are, that you are not alone," said Hill. "And the idea is that knowing you are not alone will hopefully encourage you to come out and talk to somebody."

Deputy Chief Jeff Hill with Halton Regional Police Service says the goal is to offer members as many mental health options as possible so they feel safe coming forward to ask for help. (Provided by Halton Regional Police Service)

The app includes contacts, mental health tips, and details a number of common issues from anger to alcohol abuse, post traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.

It also features three video testimonials from officers.

In one video, which is also posted on Youtube, a constable with 13 years of service describes his experience with depression and suicidal thoughts:

"I'm hoping that by watching this video, you can see there is a light at the end of the tunnel," says John, who did not want his last name used.

"That no matter how dark things get, how tough they get, you can get help."

Fear of being labelled

Clayton Gillis, a veteran officer who's worked in drugs, gangs and guns as well as commercial robbery, says while there's been a big shift in policing culture, stigma is still a challenge.

"We are getting to a point in policing where people are saying, 'Enough is enough,'" said Gillis, who recently was elected president of the Halton Regional Police Association.

"We can't put on our brave face and pretend like this stuff doesn't affect us," he told CBC Toronto.

"We all know people in emergency services are suffering with mental health [issues] relating to the stress of what we do on a day-to-day basis."

While he hasn't had a chance to go through the app, he says it will be a huge benefit for members have a mental health resource on their phone any time, any day.

"A lot of it is just about access to professional people and wait times to get into see someone," he said. "If it's 2:00 a.m. on a Monday you're not going to be able to see a psychologist and speak to them in person."

The app, he says, is "giving people at least a first step to ask some questions and reach out and talk to someone if they need to and have that around-the-clock coverage."

The app is designed for members of the Halton Regional Police Service, offering practical advice and warning signs, among other supports. (CBC News)

Halton police expand mental health training

The app is just the latest effort by the service's organizational wellness unit, which launched in 2016. 

The unit is made up of a staff sergeant, constable and psychologist, who work out of an unmarked building, separate from any police site. Hill, the service's deputy chief, says one of the unit's primary goals is reducing the stigma around mental health.

Starting Friday, the service will make a one-day mental health training course mandatory for both civilian and uniform members.

"If I break my ankle, I have no problem telling everybody the story," Hill said.

"But when it comes to mental wellness, there's still that stigma that people don't feel comfortable talking about it that way. They don't talk about what is necessary about my recovery," he added.

"That's what we are constantly working toward."

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.

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