Police advocates say it is time for action to help officers struggling with mental health after another Ontario officer died by suicide Wednesday.
Ottawa-area Const. Roch Durivage is the fourth member of the Ontario Provincial Police to die by suicide since July. In total, nine officers from across the province’s police forces took their lives in 2018, prompting an OPP review.
Badge of Life, a peer-led charitable organization that offers support to active and retired officers, said there is a mental health crisis in law enforcement that must be addressed.
“It’s a definite time for action. The time for talking about it is kind of over,” said president Bill Rusk. “I can tell you right now, there’s more than a dozen officers across the country right now that are contemplating suicide and they shouldn’t have to do that alone.”
After learning of Durivage’s death, the president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association released a letter to members saying that the job had “claimed another hero.” He promised that a comprehensive mental health plan is coming.
“There can be no denying the mental health crisis in law enforcement and the broader first responder community,” Rob Jamieson wrote.
“We are asked, on a regular basis, to willingly subject ourselves to traumatic events. We sacrifice ourselves, piece by piece, in the name of keeping our communities safe. For that, you are heroes, in every sense of the word; however, the burden you carry cannot and should not be shouldered alone.”
Jamieson urged those who are struggling to seek out help.
“The stigma that still exists may make that first step to reach out to a friend, a colleague or your association the most frightening thing you have ever done, but we will have your back at every step.”
Durivage has been described by a close friend as a “good man who fought for what he believed in.” His partner, Tina Vandenburg, works as an OPP dispatcher and told CTV Toronto that she has had to deal with the deaths of her colleagues this past year. Now another officer is “gone far too soon,” she said.
In the five years prior to 2018, there had not been more than five officer suicides in any one year, said Ontario’s chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer, when he announced an expert review in January. He said much effort had gone into enhancing “wellness strategies” in Ontario police services.
“Despite that, officers are dying.”
The OPP announced its review in August, saying it will examine member suicides and attempted suicides and organize roundtable discussions with officers, family members and mental health experts.
According to OPP records, 24 active OPP members and nine retired members have died by suicide in the past 30 years.
Jamieson told CTV Toronto on Thursday that the OPPA has been working on a “comprehensive mental health plan” and details will be released in the upcoming weeks.
“We want to have the proper supports in a comprehensive way that’s integrated and you call a number and you’re taken care of from point A to Z, to make sure that you, your spouse, your children … are receiving the support that they need.”
The plan would be administered by the association and would be separate from support offered through the OPP.
Dave Blair, a veteran OPP officer who has been public about his journey in treating his PTSD, wrote on Facebook Thursday:
“The time of the lone wolf is over, we need each other, we need to be connected as human beings, we need to eliminate the stigma, true strength comes when we dare to be vulnerable, it’s ok to not be ok, you can heal and recover – I’m a survivor – so too can you survive – it does not own me nor define me anymore.”
According to a post by psychologist Ellen Kirschman on Psychology Today, “One generally accepted yet disturbing calculation about police suicide is that cops may be two to three times more likely to kill themselves than to be killed in the line of duty.”
Kirschman, who specializes in police and public safety psychology, says a broad range of issues can lead an officer to suicide, including addiction, PTSD, family conflict and loss, job stress, and a “distorted but culturally correct sense of invincibility and independence.”
She urged those who are worried about an officer to confront the issue of suicide head on, but carefully.
“Prepare yourself for a lot of angry denial. Remember, cops think they should solve problems, not have them.”