Holding the Line
Research and implementation: Our two-fold mental health resources
By Michelle Vincent
Cognitive behavioural therapy? Exposure therapy? Yoga or a three or five-day retreat with the Badge of Life Canada non-profit? What do I need, what is available to me and what is likely to serve me best during my mental health journey as a police officer — whether I’m active or retired?
When we look at adding resources to the mental health world for first responders and uniform personnel, or to any mental health community, it is best practice to research, gather data and then use that informative data to create a proposal. That proposal is then used to gather funding to implement the prospective resource.
As an academic I understand and respect the necessity and quality control piece ethical research adds. Research is ongoing and technically eternal. With this in mind, it is just as important to ensure some sort of action is taken to implement a resource as a result of the research.
Resources are few and far between, especially in the world of policing and mental health. While great strides are being made to create innovative resources — such as online cognitive behavioural “therapy,” the Boots on the Ground peer support line, and phone apps like Backup Buddy, promoted by some Ontario police services — we still need “beefier” supports in place.
One excellent resource that gathers data through research while providing services simultaneously is a clinic out in Ottawa, exclusive to first responders. It is run by Dr. Simon Hatcher, a professor of psychiatry working out of Ottawa University, in partnership with the Ottawa Hospital. This research clinic is the first of its kind in Canada; being both a clinic providing mental health support for public safety personnel and conducting research at the same time to ensure best practices are met. This project is supported by the City of Ottawa and funded by the Canadian Safety and Security Program (CSSP).
What does that mean for us as police officers? It means a safe place for us to go if we live and/or work in the Ottawa area and require mental health support. It means people care enough to find out what resources work for us as police officers and what resources need to be revamped. It means there is an opportunity to develop some leading edge, evidence-based programming that is specialized just for us as a result of this clinic.
It is essential our community understands and supports the development of these occupational-specific programs so if, and when, the time comes we need the support, physically attainable resources are available. A variety of programs exist and are fantastic for the general population, However, our ongoing exposure to traumatic incidents places us in a unique category for mental health needs. We are also a unique cohort because of what type of resources we are likely to use — you will not find many police officers opting to go to the hospital in the middle of a mental health event of their own.
Let’s be frank. If I am having a mental health crisis at work as a police officer, I need somewhere to go immediately. I need to meet with a mental health provider that has some understanding of what I am dealing with. I need them to understand the culture I work within, the identity I carry with me at all times, and the responsibility that lies on my shoulders as I serve my community under a microscope of armchair quarterbacks. My every decision, life-threatening or basic, is scrutinized and judged. Understandable? Absolutely — with the right provider and the background data.
Let’s make sure that as we do research, we also implement resources that help me work through, process and reframe so I can remain mentally healthy and serve my community at my best.
Michelle Vincent recently retired from York Regional Police after 18 years. She is the founder of The Haven, Ontario’s first non-profit, inpatient treatment centre exclusive to first responders and uniform personnel. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.