Rising number of PTSD cases among RCMP officers costing taxpayers millions

WATCH: Global News has learned there has been a sharp rise in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder in the RCMP and it’s costing taxpayers millions of dollars. A peer-support program was cancelled two years ago, and critics say the force has done little to help since then. Shirlee Engel reports.

The number of current and former RCMP officers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is rising dramatically, but there are concerns the force is not doing enough to help.

Since 2010, there has been a 64 per cent rise of serving and former Mounties receiving pensions related to PTSD.

And, as awareness about PTSD increases, more RCMP members are coming forward with their mental health issues.

But the human and financial cost of operational stress has also risen sharply to cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually, in pension payouts and lost productivity.

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The force loses $70 million each year to officers unable to work due to both physical and mental disabilities, but it won’t say exactly how much is due specifically to PTSD.

As of Sept. 30, 2013, there were 2,938 serving or released members of the RCMP receiving pensions related to mental health, and 80 per cent of those (2,360 people) had a permanent duty-related injury from PTSD.

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The RCMP had a pilot peer support program to assist its members who were struggling with PTSD. But that project was cut in 2012, after just two years. Since that time, the RCMP has pointed members towards a helpline and web-based resources on mental health.

Pulling the plug on the project was a move in the wrong direction, according to the RCMP officer who was handpicked to develop the program in 2010.

Staff Sgt. Brent Baulkham dealt with more than 70 deaths over his 26 years on the job – everything from suicides to the murder of four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, Alta. in March 2005.

WATCH: Extended interview with Staff Sgt. Brent Baulkham

He knows firsthand how important it is to have someone to speak to and share what you’re going through.

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Baulkham, himself, was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after the project was shut down. He’s now on leave.

“Just before I left the organization I asked to be considered to help in peer-to-peer and I was not taken up on that offer,” he said. “It’s easier to ignore the people and say we’re working on this system. There is a huge disconnect between headquarters, Ottawa and our front-line members.”

Baulkam said despite the number of people coming forward with their battles with PTSD, the RCMP does not take a proactive approach to the issue either.

“The RCMP provides help when you have been injured. The RCMP don’t provide assistance prior to being injured,” he said.

A physical ailment needs to be treated in a much different way than a mental illness, he says.

“I get the financial costs,” he said. “But providing a program that assists members through a personal touch, not a call-in centre, it works.”

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Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau told Global News the RCMP approved a new mental health strategy just this week. But that strategy does not include any plans for support groups.

Although he was not a part of the 2012 decision to cancel plans for a peer support program, he agrees with the move.

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“It was a liability, having people that weren’t trained in the mental health business, perhaps conducting themselves [in] ways we did not support,” said Moreau.

He has coped with his own mental health issues throughout his more than 34 years with the RCMP.

WATCH: Extended interview with RCMP Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau

While he sympathizes with those struggling with PTSD, Moreau said he was always able to find help on his own and he believes it’s up to the individual to do that themselves.

“It all starts with the member,” Moreau said. “The organization cannot do it for you. As a member you have to seek the help you need to get better. If you feel the organization won’t do it, you still have an obligation to loved ones to go and seek that help.”

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Moreau said “nobody is immune” from mental health issues. But, he said he sought support from colleagues without the help of a peer support program and turned to psychologists in the community.

He explained the recently-approved strategy will focus on mental health education, address stigma about mental health and will make sure members know where they can access help.

Moreau said the strategy will be discussed with RCMP members at the end of April and an action plan will be put together in May or June.

“[But] at this moment, I can tell you that we’re not looking to create these informal groups… that were present in the pilot project two years ago. We’re not in the treating business,” he said.

With files from Shirlee Engel

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