Holding the Line
Occupational-specific wellness for “the big picture”
When we ponder the significant events that have occurred nationwide in our policing family —from the shooting of our members in Onanole, Man. and Fredericton, N.B., to our Ontario Provincial Police officers who have died by suicide — we have to ask ourselves what we are doing as a society to support the surviving members.
By Michelle Vincent
The impact of these events, along with the traumatic experiences we face as police officers on a regular basis, must be considered when looking at our long-term health and well-being. We are exposed to critical incidents — events most people see as acute trauma — on a regular basis and we have to understand that is not an ordinary lived experience.
Being a PhD student at present, I have the opportunity to participate in a variety of research and discuss with other experts the available resources and leading-edge practices in health and wellness for public safety professionals and beyond. That being said, with so much discussion and academic focus on this topic from a variety of angles, I have to wonder whether we are missing “the big picture.”
We have some fantastic educational programs aimed at suicide prevention being delivered in our policing organizations right across Canada. Some organizations are equipped with peer support teams and Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) teams who are trained in supporting their members on an individual and group basis.
Additionally, many organizations have listed psychological professionals in various geographical areas for their members to utilize at their discretion. These professionals specialize in dealing with first responders — they expedite the intake process for first responders, understanding the importance of availability in a time of crisis.
As we look at the mental resources available for first responders, it is important to note the existing gaps in these services. For example, while psychological testing plays a part in identifying potential issues and vulnerabilities, many of us are very good at playing the game in relation to that testing.
We need to identify where resources are most needed, as well as the specifics in exactly how we deliver and access these resources. When a member is in crisis, it may be a struggle to accomplish the simplest tasks, let alone undertake the action of locating resources and accessing them.
I have written in previous columns of the challenge of reaching out and locating the most effective resources when we are in crisis and so it is best to do so prior. For example, selecting a psychologist or other mental health professional we connect well with (or one our fellow members recommend) while we are in a good mental health state, so that if/when a crisis occurs and we need support, reaching out is a phone call away. We need to go a step further and have more occupational-specific resources involved as an accessible and non-profit option.
How many first responders’ lives would be saved if we were able to provide 24/7, culture-specific, confidential mental health care on an inpatient/outpatient basis? How many lives would be enriched if the government paid for police-specific health benefits — just for us — and/or medical supervision to manage the specific and unique addictions we as law enforcement officers are having?
There are very few professions that expect their members to put their lives at risk in order to keep their communities safe. If we want our members to continue to serve in a mentally healthy, clear-minded way, is it not our duty as a society to provide the best services to support the maintenance of their well-being?
Having customized resources that are readily available and easily accessible for our members and our police families may lift a heavy burden of silence that hangs over our communities in terms of how we manage our members who need support.
Let’s gather as members in this honourable (and vulnerable) profession to notice when a particular resource has been especially supportive in our healing journey. Let’s then share that resource. Let’s be open to new opportunities for confidential, safe, occupational-specific care that may support us being more present and available to our families, friends and communities — a result of a mentally healthy lifestyle.
Let’s be inspired, as individuals, policing organizations and in the policing profession as a whole, to identify what is working in our world in terms of resources and what is lagging behind. Let’s get more of us partnered up with the currently available resources — the need for our support is great. When we have more first responder/uniform supervisory personnel at the forefront of our own mental health care, we can say we are indeed getting “the big picture.”
Michelle Vincent is a 15-year York Regional Police officer with a Masters Degree in Arts in Counselling Psychology and a background in equine assisted therapy, workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.