To Serve and Protect. This is a simple but powerful statement displayed on police cruisers, and yet I think I’ve taken it for granted – a realization I made while attending a conference hosted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP). Two hundred and fifty representatives from police forces across Canada were brought together for two days to focus on the advancement of mental health issues in policing such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – an amazing accomplishment that speaks to the priority the association has placed on this problem.
Officers are trained to not only provide support to their communities but to be compassionate and caring every day to individuals in despair. They understand their role and the expectations society places on them and I’m sure that doesn’t come without stressors; after all, the risks are high in this line of work. As I sat there listening to each speaker, one reoccurring thought kept plaguing me. This passion to protect the community needs to be turned inward and focused on mental health to help protect themselves and their fellow officers. After all, if we can’t take care of ourselves, how can we take care of others?
That’s why I believe that early intervention is the key to creating a mentally healthy workplace. Officers are best positioned to recognize early on-set of changes in behavior in their co-workers and to respond with encouragement and guidance to seek help before it deteriorates into a debilitating illness. This is the concept of creating a culture of caregivers in the workplace that I have spoken about. It is the ability to look at themselves and their peers with the same lens that they look at others.
Throughout the conference, there was recognition of the unique challenges facing police services, including not only the external factors associated with working in a high-risk line of work, engaging with the public and exposure to the inherent realities of being a first responder, but also the organizational and cultural aspect of policing. There was a sense of urgency, collective will and common sense of purpose because it is a shared crisis that, given particular circumstances, could overwhelm any of us.
Despite the fact that the aggregate of these factors makes this seem like a daunting task, I participated in discussions and witnessed a positive attitude that left me full of optimism that the police services across Canada have chosen to tackle this mental health issue head-on. There were certainly difficult and honest discussions from those sharing their personal struggles with work issues, but I am convinced we would not have had this conversation in such a broad forum only a couple of years ago. The fact that all these officers continue to not only contribute , but thrive in their careers after debilitating challenges is a testimony to how far police services have progressed in a short period of time. Peer support and leadership is the foundation of any successful anti-stigma campaign, leading to an early intervention and a mentally healthy workplace.
Openly confronting issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and stress shows real progress, leadership, and commitment to staff, as well as a willingness to adopt meaningful cultural change towards creating a climate of mutual support. I am convinced that organization wide resiliency can be found in the comradeship and support for which the policing community is known.