The RCMP is engaged in a study of operational stress injuries to officers that will provide insight on first-responder mental health and recommend ways to treat and prevent injuries caused by traumatic events.
The 10-year study – officially called the Longitudinal Study of Operation Stress and launched in 2019 – will follow RCMP officers from their time as cadets at Depot, the RCMP's training academy, through their first five years on the job.
RCMP Cst. Jarrett Taylor, who graduated Depot in January 2020, wanted to participate in the study to help his colleagues.
Being ex-military for sixteen-and-a-half years, I have the unfortunate knowledge of people in that profession not speaking out and ultimately committing suicide," says Taylor. "If five years of my life doing surveys . . . saves one life, it's worth it for me."
Establishing a baseline
Developed by Dr. Nick Carleton of the University of Regina and a team of experts across Canada, the study is designed to gain a better understanding of how operational stress injuries and post traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) develop among police officers.
As part of the study, officers will complete a daily, monthly and annual survey that will be followed with an assessment by a clinical psychologist.
The study also monitors physiological factors, such as heart rate, to help identify signs of trauma and stress-related disorders.
Dr. Gregory Kratzig, director of research and strategic partnerships at Depot, says establishing a baseline for each cadet is critical to the study and will show how police work affects mental health.
We'll follow them in the field and monitor the traumatic events they'll experience," says Kratzig, who notes when a police officer starts their career it won't be long before they experience a very stressful event.
They'll likely experience traumatic events in the first months, weeks, if not days, after being deployed to the field," he says. "
By completing the requirements over the next five years, we will be able to measure changes that may occur."
On the job
Since starting at the RCMP's Drayton Valley detachment, in central Alberta, after graduating Depot in February 2020, study participant Cst. Simon Coutu has responded to all types of calls. Many were major events such as attempted murders and motor-vehicles collisions.
Sometimes there are things you see that make it tough, but the study helps with recognizing those things and being able to get the resources you need," says Coutu.
The study is especially important following 2018 research that found nearly a third of participating RCMP officers reported experiencing symptoms consistent with PTSD. Approximately half described experiencing other potentially problematic symptoms.
For Taylor, participating in the study provides a way to talk with colleagues about mental health.
Being part of the program naturally makes you share why you're doing it with other members and helps reduce the stigma and things that get us into the situations where we're not in the right headspace or shy about talking about it," says Taylor.
Kratzig encourages those in the study to stay engaged and continue contributing to the research.
The only way to make change happen is to stay in the study. Everything that you do will help not only yourselves, but will help those members in the field, those who have retired, and for those members who will come after you," he says. "
There is no question that what you are doing is going to save lives.
The study is one of many ways the RCMP is building its capacity to support employee mental health. Employees can access the Support for Operational Stress Injuries program, Road to Mental Readiness training, the Peer-to-Peer program and the federal government's Employee Assistance Program.