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PTSD Awareness Day – A genuine show of support or just lip-service?

July 2021

“Hope Support Love.” That’s the motto they used.

On 27 June, Ontario marked the third annual PTSD Awareness Day, a day that’s bittersweet day for me. It’s good to see PTSD finally being recognized as an occupational hazard; something that can afflict police, emergency services workers, and military personnel, indiscriminately and without warning. It’s something that can, and does, kill those afflicted.

Sometimes it takes months, or even years, for its debilitating effects to manifest. We didn’t ask for it, nor is it a sign of weakness. Given how hard some of us go to cover up our suffering and carry on as if nothing is wrong, it shows a great deal of strength, but that strength can only last so long before we crash.

It’s nice to see attitudes are changing.

However, it’s disheartening to see that my former police service, West Grey Police, has finally gotten on the support bandwagon; disheartening because their support would have been nice six years ago. I silently battled (at the time un-diagnosed) PTSD, which lead to 10-year battle with alcoholism; fearful that acknowledging that I was suffering and needed help, would derail my career.

Unfortunately, my career did come to a sudden and unnecessary end. If there was some “Hope Support Love” from West Grey Police six years ago, maybe my career wouldn’t have ended the way it did. I “sucked it up” for as long as I could; fought for as long as I could, but eventually I reached a point where I couldn’t fight anymore. Instead of receiving support and compassion, all I received was a promise that things would get worse if I didn’t pack it in; that the bullying and toxic work environment that led to my PTSD and alcoholism would continue. Even my police association did very little to support and help me. As I’ve mentioned in a previous column, the association president was one of my tormentors, despite being a friend of almost 30 years.

Ironically, it wasn’t the job, and the horrors we sometimes see in the emergency services. It was the toxic workplace and toxic people that did me in.

To all the Police Chiefs out there who proudly proclaim their support for PTSD Awareness Day: Stop throwing away good officers, just because they get sick. Do something to show you actually care about the welfare of your officers, instead of just paying lip-service. Be aware that most officers will be reluctant to admit they have a problem, often until it’s too late. While good order and discipline must be maintained, and problem officers may have to be dealt with through punitive measures, up to and including Police Services Act charges, stop using them as your first course of action.

However, some supervisors/command officers go out of their way to target certain officers to set an example, creating discipline problems that didn’t exist before, frequently abusing their authority in the process.

To Police Services Board members: You need to better monitor the command officers heading up your services. If you don’t already, demand to see monthly reports for all formal and informal disciplinary matters. If a particular officer’s name keeps coming up month after month, ask your command officers why this is happening and what is being done about them. Sometimes, the supervisors/command officers are the ones who are actually the problem.

Some supervisors/command officers think the only way to gauge a subordinate officer’s performance is through the number of arrests made and Provincial Offences tickets handed out. Some of those same supervisors/command officers think the only way to show how well they do their own job, is to show how many reprimands and PSA charges they hand out to subordinates.

While I admittedly despise the word “safe spaces,” questions asked by non-threating people, in a non-threatening manner, with an offer that there is help for them if they ask, can go a long way to helping officers open up. I don’t have all the answers, but I can offer some suggestions.

It’s too late for me, but it doesn’t have to be for the next officer. I may be bitter, but I have reason to be. Supervisors/command officers do have an obligation to look out for the welfare of their subordinates, not just disciplining them for transgressions. Sometimes, those transgressions may actually be a cry for help.

“…when officers die in the line of duty they are treated as heroes, but if they sacrifice their mental health serving their community, we treat them as pariahs.” – David Butt, Barrister.

“They say they support you, but they don’t. They have posters and they tweet out on mental health day but when it comes down to it, you are not supported.” – Constable Brad Traves, Barrie Police.

Sources: June 27, 2019 marks Ontario’s first-ever PTSD Awareness Day | CMHA Ottawa.

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About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/ptsd-awareness-day-a-genuine-show-of-support-or-just-lip-service/

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