At a news conference on Thursday morning, Ontario Provincial police (OPP) Commissioner J.V.N Hawkes announced an intensive review will be conducted into the forces’ mental health support system.
In a joint announcement at the OPP general headquarters in Orillia, Hawkes and research psychologist Dr. Julie Devlin, unveiled a three-part collaborative approach to addressing mental health concerns within the force.
The announcement comes after three members of the force died by suicide in the last month.
Hawkes identified the deceased members as Det. Insp. Paul Horne from Iroquois, Sgt. Sylvain Routhier from Belleville and Const. Joshua de Bock from Elora.
“During the past weeks immediate families and OPP members, including myself have been dealing with the grief or our loss. There is a tremendous void that has been left behind that has impacted the entire organization right across this province,” Hawkes said.
“We know we have to do more and we have to break the silence,” he said.
The strategy is broken down into three parts – enhancing, examining and evaluating.
Hawkes says when it comes to enhancement, the OPP will build on the existing strategy which was initially developed in response to a report from the ombudsman in 2012 which outlined the effects of operational stress injuries on officers.
According to Hawkes, the OPP have been working on the mental health strategy over the last several years, however, they are now looking to fill in the gaps that have been identified and are failing their members.
“Notable progress has been made, however, there is work to be done,” Hawkes said. “The mental health strategy has built a good foundation with the goal of consistent and efficient mental health services delivering to our communities and provide mental health awareness, education and services to our members.”
The new plan outlines expansions to clinical help, anonymous wellness checks and other aspects geared towards helping officers and civilians.
When it comes to examining, Hawkes says roundtable discussions will be held in order to consult with members, their families and appropriate stakeholders. Details from the meetings will inform a report to the commissioners committee on how to better serve members from a mental health standpoint.
Hawkes says he expects it will take less than a year for recommendations from the committee to create substantial changes, however, if fixes can be made along the way, they will be addressed immediately.
“We want to make sure we do it right,” he said.
Additionally, in the last 30 years, Hawkes says 24 active force members have died by suicide and nine retired members have died by suicide. According to Hawkes, they will be looking into incidents within the last five years to find similarities.
According to Hawkes, the review will work to identify and eliminate the inefficiencies and barriers which make it difficult for members to access mental health services.
Those barriers, Hawkes says, are often an overwhelming amount of paperwork, or lack of access to a health-care professional.
Hawkes says one of the biggest barriers members face is the stigma surrounding seeking help.
He says this is one of the main goals of the new strategy, to break the stigma and the barriers to accessing care.
“My plea is simple, if you or someone you know is struggling, whether it’s an operational stress injury, a mental health illness, or if you’re just not yourself, I urge you to come forward to seek support and if you’re in a crisis, please get immediate, emergency medical help,” Hawkes said.
“No one should suffer in silence, together let’s break this silence. I want you to talk to somebody, a friend, a colleague, a supervisor or a loved one we need to do this together,” he said.