In the wake of a scathing report from Auditor General Michael Ferguson released Tuesday morning, issues regarding the mental health of police officers have come under renewed scrutiny.
The report, which said that the RCMP never implemented a 2014 mental health strategy, posited that PTSD and depression had become serious issues within the police force.
The report alleged that in many branches of the RCMP those with mental health issues were dissuaded from seeking help due to ridicule, and those who did seek help were not checked up on regularly.
Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich recently implemented a mental health strategy within his own department, and he joined Steele & Drex in studio to talk about how he thinks mental health problems in police departments across the country can be addressed.
WATCH: APD Chief Bob Rich talks PTSD in the police force
Rich says he’s no stranger to the havoc mental health issues can wreak on a police force.
He says 2015 was the worst year for the Abbotsford PD in history, particularly in terms of mental health.
At that time, 17 of the department’s officers were being investigated for corruption, charges which have since been dropped.
On top of that, 11 officers took leave from work to deal with the long-term effects of PTSD, reducing their already small force.
Worst of all, two of the department’s members took their own lives, a huge blow to the department as a whole.
“The organization was its lowest point,” Rich says. “We had to start digging our way out.”
He says morale issues got so bad that the workplace turned downright toxic.
In order to address the issues, Rich started taking a closer look at the mental factors affecting officers.
Those factors included workplace stresses, depression and PTSD, Rich says.
“To run a police force where somebody can come in healthy and leave healthy – physically and mentally – means we have to look at all those things and how we handle them.”
Rich invited his officers to talk to him if they felt their mental health was suffering, and made greater strides to find them help.
It brought the Abbotsford Police, and Rich himself, back from the brink.
LISTEN to the full interview with Rich below:
Opening up the discussion around mental health allowed his officers to be honest about what issues they were struggling with, many of them with symptoms of PTSD.
Through his work, Rich found that many officers cope with the disorder, never seeking help.
He says it’s all too common in police department across Canada.
“A lot of people are carrying some scars. That’s the way it really has been for people.”
If it’s found early enough, Rich says those officers suffering from PTSD can be treated and back in the force within a couple months.
However, that’s not the case for everyone.
“For the members who, unfortunately, have been in a place where it has piled up for years,” Rich says. “It’s rarer to see somebody make it back.”
Even if those officers aren’t physically hurt, he says the emotional toll of returning to the job can prove to be too much.
“The stress of coming back to a place where it can happen again is pretty overwhelming.”
Rich says just as officers stay physically healthy, they should make strides to stay mentally healthy as well.
“Every police officer who steps into the role has to take energy and time every day to figure out how they’re going to stay mentally fit.”
But the issue is so widespread, Rich says, that lasting changes can only come from the top.
It took a harrowing experience to motivate him to institute a solid policy that wasn’t just lip service, and Rich says the only way to get others to do the same is to show them how.
“We have to bring that into our leadership ranks. You can’t expect people just to do it because you told them to do it, you have to teach people.”
And even though Abbotsford PD has made great strides in terms of mental health, Rich says they have much further to go.
“We have a long way to go on that… we’re just figuring it out.”