Mohamod Shaukat is a corrections officer from Airdrie, Alta., and never imagined his career would become a curse, burdened with the things he’s witnessed on the job.
“You see stuff a human mind is not programmed to see,” Mohamod said.
“I tried to leave everything at work, but it eventually started coming home.”
Over the years, it manifested and he had an angry outburst. It was the day he searched for help.
“I’ve never touched my wife aggressively, but that day I was scared that this is how it starts,” Mohamod said.
“It’s going to be a point where police are going to come to my house if I don’t get help.”
His wife Saira said his relentless exposure to disturbing things at work is impacting their family and she’s worried about him.
“You’ll see him space out and not enjoy family events like he used to,” she said.
“I can tell he’s thinking, ‘Where is the front door that I can run to? Can I trust the people who are here in this room?'”
The couple have a young daughter and are working together to keep their family bond strong. But both say there aren’t enough resources for first responders or their families.
“I wish he didn’t have to deal with this alone and there were more resources for people like him struggling to get the help they need,” Saira said.
“There needs to be more, the services — with the budgets they have — are doing their best, but it’s not enough,” Mohamod said.
“Why react when we can do something now?”
The mental health and well-being of all Correctional Service of Canada employees, including correctional officers and parole officers, are of utmost importance, according to Marie Pier Lécuyer, a senior media relations advisor for CSC.
She said their work is valued and they work at supporting their employees by helping them maintain positive mental health.
“We have many initiatives relating to mental health, including mental health injuries, in place to support all staff, such as the employee assistance program (EAP), the critical incident stress management (CISM), the return to work and the duty to accommodate,” Pier Lécuyer said.
“In 2020, CSC implemented a one-day mental health preparedness training for all new CSC employees, including parole officers, to be taken within six months of hire.”
Beyond the Blue is an organization for the partners of Calgary Police Service members. President Tara Ernst said the mental well-being of first responders and their families is more fragile than it’s ever been.
“We are at a critical state right now,” Ernst said. “I can sense it from families and from officers, the stress they are dealing with every day.”
“If you’re a father and go to an incident with a child, you don’t know how it’s going to impact you. It’s the work stress and the general negativity towards police.”
She hopes more funding can be allocated.
“Lots of officers are debating quitting and wondering why they got into this job,” Ernst said.
“We will have struggles recruiting new officers, and with families and officers with higher divorce rates and children with mental health issues, all of that is a real possibility.”
The Calgary Police Service has a dedicated unit for those on the front lines and their families. Stacey Ferland, the executive director of the wellness and resiliency department, said demand is rising.
“We have a progressive, cutting edge service both from a psychological and from a physical perspective,” she said.
“We are able to treat family members and employees, but we always need more. That’s where the Calgary Police Service is taking a stand. This is a priority, a priority is our members’ well-being.”
Ferland said they have made great strides but are looking to grow their programs.
“We are one of the oldest and largest in-house mental health services for any law enforcement across North America,” she said. “We want to expand services, so it’s not just talk therapy.
“There are other modalities we can tap into to help our people heal and grow.”
Programs are desperate for funding. Organizations like Can Praxis are helping veterans and first responders heal.
They recently received $460,000 from Veterans Affairs Canada. Money is earmarked for their Breaking the Cycle Family Program. Founder Steve Critchley said it is welcome support for veterans but there’s a gap in committed funding for first responders.
“We keep hearing organizations talk about being a family,” he said. “Step up prove it.
“Every month we have suicidal spouses. Now we are hearing about suicidal children. That’s not acceptable.
“We need to change this and we need to change it now.”
He hopes municipal and federal governments step up.
“The families are left on their own,” Critchley said. “The focus is to return the members in uniform to work as quickly and as cheaply as possible.
“PTSD is a family affair. You don’t live through PTSD as an individual — your family absorbs that injury.”
An upcoming fundraiser organized by Kenn Borek Air will raise money for first responder mental health supports.
All proceeds will support Can Praxis.