Members from the Toronto Police Service met on Thursday to discuss mental health and wellness plans as part of Suicide Prevention Day, after three officers ended their lives in the last year.
Interim Police Chief Jim Ramer met with Ryan Teschner, the executive director of the Toronto Police Services Board, and Brian Callanan, the acting president of the Toronto Police Association.
“It’s a topic that we have be prepared and openly willing to discuss and make sure that you don’t need to feel weak or scared that you’re having this discussion. We have to make sure that we make an environment where people feel confident to talk about it if they are having difficulty and I think more importantly we have to ensure that we have the proper suite of professional services to provide that assistance.”
Dilnaz Garda from Toronto Beyond the Blue, a charity that emotional supports and resources to family members of Toronto police officers and civilian members, also attended Thursday’s meeting and said it’s vital that people fight the stigma that surrounds suicide and mental health.
“We need to say the word suicide,” she said.
“We need to acknowledge the type of death and then we need to look inwards to see how we can do better. Are there policies and procedures that we can change? But it all starts with acknowledging the death.”
The charity was created after Garda’s brother, who was a police officer, died by suicide.
“I realized the immediacy of help that was required. I realized that as a family member, we see them spiral when they come home and we see all the signs and symptoms,” she said.
“We sometimes don’t know where to turn. My brother was a Toronto police officer and he took his job with a lot of pride and he’s human and he took his job so seriously that at the end of the day what he had to deal with it ate him.”
In 2020, there have been three suicides deaths of officers from Toronto police.
Const. Mike Austin, a member of the service for 21 years, died in February. A source told Global News that Austin died inside a parking garage at the Toronto police headquarters located on College Street.
Ramer said changes are being made to enhance training and offer support to those members who are in need.
“It’s going to be education and it’s going to be education for supervisors, for senior managers to help understand the problem and to help approach individuals who might be needing help,” he said.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
— With files from Katherine Aylesworth.