Let’s have a mental health requalification

Michelle Vincent
December 23, 2016
By Michelle Vincent
While standing proudly among my fellow officers paying their respects at the Canadian Police Memorial service, gazing up at the majestic parliament building and flags at half mast, a question came to mind.

How deeply related is our mental health, on and off the job training and execution of duties? Some line of duty deaths are not preventable but others may be.

Safely conducting a traffic stop in the middle of the night requires clear, switched on thinking. An operational plan to execute a search warrant on a long investigated organized crime organization also requires a clear mind to ensure evidence is located and everyone involved stays safe.

Although police training encompasses a multitude of dynamics, including defensive tactics and mental health information, does it truly teach the connection between mental health and the execution of specialized functions? If we placed as much importance on mental health self-care as we do on firearms training, would we work smarter and safer? I wonder if attendance would improve and job satisfaction increase.

This might be the missing piece, if there is one, in supporting a successful work environment for first responders. Imagine if we could attend a retreat created solely for us for a few days each year geared towards healthy eating, meditation, outdoor tasks and solution-focused coping skills – sort of a “mental health requal.”

What an incredible opportunity to clear out the filter of our perceptual lens, thus enabling us to think smartly and effectively out on the road. It would help us be clear and effective when testifying in important cases where we worry about the outcome, especially if we’re concerned an unfavorable verdict may be due to our action/investigation/testimony.

A clear mind is one of the greatest tools a police officer can possess, better than many of the other items we are given in order to effectively execute our duties. As we progress in the world of policing and recognize the importance of mental health and the role it plays in our world, we have the opportunity to adopt leading edge thinking and incorporate it into police training.

We need to look at the most important aspects of mental health. More than a healing and preventative tool, it is also an operational tool in policing – a key requirement not only for resilience but as a powerful skill that new police officers need to be taught.
Incorporating mental health into training for new criminal investigations, forensic and homicide officers will improve investigations and be highly constructive. Teaching it at the academy level would give recruits an edge and enable cadets to apply it not only to all aspects of policing but also in their personal lives and relationships.

Taking mental health to an operational level also makes it more digestible for seasoned officers. We talk about “Below 100” (see below100.org), an effort to permanently eliminate preventable line of duty deaths and injuries through innovative training and awareness. (The 100 refers to the program’s goal of reducing line of duty deaths to below 100, a number not seen since 1943. The average over the past 10 years, according to the program, is about 150).

Adding mental health into our operational training may not only support this goal but ensure fewer names are added to our wall of fallen officers in Ottawa. What a gift it would be to pay our respects to officers who have lost their lives in the line of duty without having to add more names.

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 and workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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