The recent suicides of three officers in as many weeks has prompted Ontario’s provincial police force to launch an internal review on what might be preventing those within its ranks from seeking help with mental health issues.
In announcing the analysis that will examine suicides and attempted suicides involving force members over the last five years, Ontario Provincial Police also said they would work on developing ways to boost supports offered to officers.
“The OPP recognizes that there is stigma associated with suicide and mental illness,” Ontario Provincial Police Commissioner Vince Hawkes said Thursday. “Although we don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t have all the answers, we will continue to work together to break down the barriers and provide support.”
The force’s internal review will try to identify similarities between suicides and attempted suicides in the force and look at what might have hindered those individuals from getting help, Hawkes said.
A series of roundtables – made up of officers, mental health experts and family of first responders – will also be launched to craft recommendations on how the force can improve the mental health assistance it offers, he said.
The initiatives will build on the force’s mental health strategy created in response to a 2012 ombudsman report that looked at OPP officers suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder due to trauma on the job. The report said the force was failing to help those officers and a list of recommendations was provided.
“The OPP continues to make mental health a priority for our people and our community but clearly we need to do more,” said Hawkes. “There are serious gaps and barriers that require further examination, review and evaluation.”
Earlier this month, Sgt. Sylvian Routhier, Det. Inspector Paul Horne and Const. Joshua De Bock died by suicide within a three-week period, the OPP said. Their jobs ranged from front-line work to special investigations and they were posted in different parts of the province, the force said.
The deaths prompted the head of the union representing provincial police officers to write a deeply personal letter urging members to reach out if they found themselves in emotional distress.
Hawkes said the entire force had spent the last few weeks grieving the loss of the three officers, adding that their deaths left a “tremendous void.”
In the last 30 years, the OPP has documented 24 force members and nine retired members that died by suicide, Hawkes said.
The commissioner added that the force is also meeting with the province to determine how the government can help provide better mental health support to first responders.
Vince Savoia, executive director of the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, which focuses on the mental health of first responders, said he’s “thankful” that the OPP is conducting an internal review and having more discussions about mental illness.
Savoia said he looks forward to the review’s completion and that he hopes the OPP makes the findings of the exercise public. He added that it will be important to compare the findings of the review to information available from other police forces.
“The internal review is integral to be able to analyze those findings,” Savoia said. “This will bring attention to the reality that first responders are at risk of suicide.”