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RCMP develop Support for Operational Stress Injury program

While SOSI coordinators usually meet one-on-one with employees to discuss operational stress, they're also available for phone calls. Credit: Shutterstock


Talking about mental health can be hard but the RCMP's Support for Operational Stress Injury program aims to make it easier, whether in person or over the phone.

The program, often called SOSI, provides support for employees and veterans who have been diagnosed with, or are experiencing symptoms of, an operational stress injury, or OSI.

While no two OSIs are the same, they can present a variety of persistent psychological difficulties including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and addictions. They may arise after traumatic events or an accumulation of stress from the daily challenges of police work.

"There can be an unfortunate emotional impact as a result of this type of work, but there are ways to strengthen resilience and recover," says Greg Smith, acting SOSI national co-ordinator.

The program co-ordinators meet one-on-one with RCMP employees and veterans to talk about what they're experiencing and offer advice on the available resources. Conversations can be held over the phone for safe physical distancing.

The co-ordinators also offer understanding. While they don't provide clinical advice or therapy many live with an OSI and have experience navigating support systems.

"We let people know that their OSI is real and they're not alone," says Smith, whose long career with the RCMP includes policing, forensic work and human resources management.

SOSI began as a pilot project in 2016. In 2018, it expanded to include co-ordinators across the country and in its first year supported more than 700 employees.

Co-ordinators organize group meetings where employees can talk about their experience and the resources that helped them. The program is completely confidential allowing people to seek help comfortably.

Doane Noel, SOSI co-ordinator in Newfoundland and Labrador, retired as an RCMP corporal after a 26-year career. He says sharing lived experiences highlights that reactions to traumatic events aren't unusual.

"It's normal if you went home and didn't sleep. It's completely normal if you have anxiety when you're called to another house fire or a motor vehicle accident," he says.

Noel gives presentations on SOSI to detachments across the province and says his lived experience helps him connect with other employees.

"They know I've been to the car accidents, I've been to the homicide calls, and I've been to the suicide calls," he says.

Connecting with other colleagues allows people to socialize and build confidence. It can be an important part of recovery as OSIs can lead to isolation and feelings of guilt and shame.

"Peers talking openly and honestly helps reduce the stigma surrounding mental health," says Smith.

Cadets at the RCMP's Depot training academy learn about SOSI and other mental health supports the organization provides ensuring they know where to go if, or when, they need help.

"We can't prevent an OSI, but we can let people know that help is there," says Kim Nocita, the SOSI program manager based in Ottawa. "We know that increasing knowledge, coping skills and education in regards to signs and symptoms can help with early intervention."

Retired RCMP employees can also access SOSI. Many worked at a time when workplace mental health was rarely discussed and welcome the program.

SOSI is modeled on the Operational Stress Injury Social Support program run by the Department of National Defense and Veteran's Affairs Canada. Some changes were made to suit the RCMP's needs and the program is working to increase its number of co-ordinators and volunteers.

It's one of many support programs for RCMP employees. Employees can access Road to Mental Readiness training, which promotes reflecting on one's mental health, the Peer-to-Peer program, available for work-related and personal issues, and the Employee Assistance Program over the phone.

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