Investigation delves into operational stress injuries
Andre Marin released the report Oct. 24. It calls on the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to take concrete action to support police officers across the province who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, risk of suicide and other forms of operational stress injuries.
“Protection of the psychological welfare of police officers is a systemic issue calling for a systemic solution,” the report said. “The officers who put themselves on the line to protect Ontario’s citizens deserve assurance that the province has their backs.”
Marin makes 34 recommendations in the report, focusing on the need to confront the persistent stigma against operational stress injuries in police culture, increase the psychological services available to officers and develop comprehensive, provincewide programs aimed at preventing and dealing with operational stress injuries and suicide.
The investigation – the most extensive ever undertaken by the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT) – involved more than 190 interviews over 18 months. It determined that the OPP has no consistent, co-ordinated programs for dealing with operational stress injuries or suicide prevention. It has only one staff psychologist for the entire province, who does not actually diagnose or treat officers, and it does not keep lists of outside mental health professionals from whom members could seek help. Nor does it track how many officers and families have turned to its employee assistance program for help with operational stress injuries.
There are no statistics kept or formal acknowledgement of OPP suicides, no prevention program and no analysis of why they occurred, according to the report. The report reveals, based on ad hoc data kept by the OPP’s former psychologist, that 23 active and retired OPP members have killed themselves since 1989 — two more than were killed on duty over the same period. There were five OPP suicides in the past 18 months alone.
The OPP said it welcomed the release of the Ombudsman report. In a press release, the OPP said and that it strongly believes education is the key to making progress in this area and recognizes that the report’s release will help increase awareness about OSI and broader mental health issues.
The Ombudsman’s report defines ‘OSI’ as a term used to describe any persistent psychological difficulty that police personnel experience as a result of operational duties, including but not limited to depression, anxiety, addictions, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the spirit of full co-operation, the OPP provided the Office of the Ombudsman with information about: the impact of OSI and PTSD on OPP members, statistical information about mental health issues, background information on OPP programs and supports for employees, as well as facilitating access to OPP members for interviews, according to the release. An in-depth review of the report will be conducted.
“The OPP is committed to supporting its workforce and this includes addressing operational stress injuries,” said OPP Commissioner Chris Lewis. “I am proud of the efforts of our employees to deliver programs and resources relating to wellness, stress management, and critical or traumatic incidents. But I also acknowledge that, while we continue to make significant progress in this area, we can still do better — and we will. We owe that to our people. I also believe the report’s recommendations may be of benefit to all first response agencies and their employees.”
For the full report, visit www.ombudsman.on.ca.