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Letter: 'Chief’s comments contribute to increased mental health stigma and shame'

Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, weighs in on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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The following letter to the editor was submitted to SooToday by Bruce Chapman, president of the Police Association of Ontario, in response to recent comments made by Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Robert Keetch regarding Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act.

As a policing professional, I’m proud to have dedicated my life to protecting our communities. Whether it is a community event, traffic enforcement or participating in the investigation of some of the most horrific crimes, police services personnel put their lives and mental health on the line each and every day.

Anyone who has experienced a traumatic or stressful event in their lives can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Due to the nature of their jobs, police service professionals are at the greatest risk of developing this illness – similar to other first responders and military personnel.

The Police Association of Ontario (PAO) was very supportive of the passing of Bill 163, Supporting Ontario’s First Responders Act in April 2016. It recognizes police personnel are now predetermined to qualify for PTSD claims as a result of work-related stress, and can get quicker access to treatment and resources they need to stay healthy.

The legislation also resulted in the implementation of vital prevention and resilience programs. The value that this provides for police service professionals, their employers, families and communities they serve is immeasurable.

It was unfortunate to have read over the weekend that Robert Keetch, Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief, believes the Sault Ste. Marie police services budget’s bottom line is of greater importance than the mental health of his local officers recovering from PTSD.

Yes, there will be an unanticipated impact on budget and staffing resources while a police officer is receiving treatment and recovering, but that pales in comparison to the investment being made in the well-being of an individual who has dedicated their life to protecting the community they call home.

To get a sense of financial impact, we need to evaluate the costs imposed by PTSD to an untreated individual compared to an individual who has elected treatment (with the goal of returning to the job).

When PTSD is left untreated, job performance could potentially suffer in ways that are far costlier to the police service than supporting an officer through treatment. PTSD can be linked to poor concentration and productivity; feelings of fear and anxiety; absenteeism; negative interactions with coworkers; suicidal thoughts; substance abuse, and; more.

It is well known that many individuals experiencing PTSD suffer in silence and don’t ask for assistance. When exposure to traumatic events impact an officer’s health and well-being, they need to know they have the support of their colleagues, police service and professional Associations to seek help – they should never feel they are a burden by their Chief.

As these individuals already often feel significant stigma and isolation due to PTSD, they should not be concerned about the potential financial impact caused by their absence from the job.

Additionally, local police services need to be prepared to support police officers more immediately after traumatic events occur to help minimize their impact. Proactive interventions, within the first few hours of the trauma, are seen to be crucial for the prevention or reduction of post-traumatic anxiety.

By openly calling for the removal of police services professionals who are living with PTSD, we risk increasing stigma and shame. Employees of police services throughout Ontario are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters that go to work each and every day to serve the communities they live and work in – and, we should always support them and their road to better health.  

Bruce Chapman
President of the Police Association of Ontario (PAO)

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