Blue Line

Features Holding the Line
Mental healthcare that “works smart”


October 10, 2019
By Michelle Vincent


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Traditionally, we have been reactive in our approach for mental healthcare. We are reactive in a lot of what we do in the world of policing. Whether it is addressing cultural issues with mental health that plague us or mental healthcare in general, we tend to meet proactive change with suspicion and immediate criticism.

This is understandable as we are expected to make snap decisions, often life-threatening ones, in a moment’s time. However, this does not always serve us well. When we explore the available options in mental healthcare, we are not always doing so with a clear mind. We may be coming from a place of pain, confusion and/or anxiety when we have a need for a mental health resource.

I have spoken in past columns of how we do not need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to providing these types of services for first responders. A safe place where healing and reprieve can occur in an oasis with leading edge, therapeutic approaches at a reasonable cost should not simply be a dream. The wonderful thing is this type of model currently exists in the organization Maison La Vigile in Quebec. The model not only exists, but it is a success. It has also been saving and enriching lives for seven years for first responders and uniform personnel.

We live in an evolved world. Now we understand we must be working smart instead of working hard. Yes, we may forget that at times and end up working hard once again as we attempt to resolve a particular dilemma. However, we are quickly reminded of the power of working smart as we experience resistance to the easy-to-burn-out, working hard approach. It is no different in how we provide care for a specialized group, like police officers. That care must be smart care.

Maison La Vigile is such an example of a non-profit working smart in how it provides occupational-specific mental health support on an inpatient/outpatient basis—exclusively to first responders and uniform personnel. The cost of the care they provide, which is second to none in my opinion, is supported by L’Association des policières et policiers provinciaux du Québec (APPQ), which has their members deduct $5 from each paycheck. In turn, its members are given free access to Maison La Vigile at any time. It is like an insurance of sorts that grants them 24/7 access to occupationally-specific healthcare with the peace of mind they are with others who have experienced similar traumas.

While many in need end up waiting for a workplace compensation board to cover some of the exorbitant costs of an inpatient stay—and one that is not occupational-specific at that—Maison La Vigile provides a free-of-cost opportunity to the members of the associations it has partnered with.

In discovering the work smart concept at Maison La Vigile, police officers and crisis workers have recognized there is a great need to bring a similar concept to Ontario and so the founding of The Haven, Maison La Vigile’s Chapter II, is well in the works.

The Haven has recently become a registered non-profit organization and has launched an official website, separate from La Vigile’s (thehaven.cloud). Equine-assisted therapy, group therapy, writing therapy and customized, evidence-based programming will all be a part of The Haven’s vision.

The Haven will also offer bilingual services, a welcome directive after a recent CBC news story highlighted the lack of a guarantee of access to PTSD services for English-speaking first responders and uniform personnel in Quebec.

Right now, The Haven is looking for your associations’ support to establish a location on a large acreage property somewhere within 45 minutes of the Toronto Pearson International Airport in Mississauga. This target area should help with The Haven’s objective to be accessible for all first responders and uniform personnel serving in northern, eastern and western Canada, with a focus on Ontario.

Mental health has to be part of the conversation when we talk about working smart for first responders, call-takers and dispatchers. Mention The Haven to your association and let’s make this happen!

Michelle Vincent is a 17-year York Regional Police officer with a master of arts in counselling psychology and a background in equine-assisted therapy, workplace reintegration after a critical incident and long-term leave, as well as teaching. She is in the process of implementing the first non-profit treatment centre that will be occupationally specific for first responders and is working towards her PhD in Forensic Psychology/Crisis Response. She can be contacted at: michelle@smith.net.