PTSD is a main priority for WRPS

Chief Larkin working to eliminate mental health stigmas

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Waterloo Regional Police chief Bryan Larkin is in the process of making changes to the management of mental health.

Specifically, he is looking to implement ways that can effectively handle occupational stress before it evolves into an uncontrollable issue.

Programs will be put in place to train coping and resiliency in police officers.

The “big focus” will be on Road to Mental Readiness, which is a program that will offer a significant amount of training, education, awareness and peer support.

This program will teach officers and civilians to recognize signs of mental illness, how to manage stress and will help in creating a workplace strategy that will ensure healthy practices. Three psychologists were also contracted to help implement these changes.

Many of the resources are focused on the outcome, said Larkin. But more attention should be given to the stressful stages before the development of post-traumatic stress disorder, so officers do not have to come to the inevitable end of having PTSD due to the inability to cope.

Two of the ways this can be done is through shifting resources and having great conversations.

“There is still stigma around having these discussions for many different reasons because there’s still stigma in the community,” said Larkin.

With the launch of Road to Mental Readiness, senior and mid-level leaders have been properly trained and will work to start educating lower-level staff as well as WRPS’ front line. Larkin hopes all civilians in high-risk areas and 911 communicators will be trained.

Another program launched by WRPS is Wellness Matters, which will bring meaningful discussion about health into the workplace. This program will integrate all types of health — physical, mental and emotional — and will work to make sure officers are healthy in all aspects of their lives. Peer support and psychology referrals are big factors in changing the dynamic in the workplace.

WRPS’ safeguarding program will review its processes regarding baseline psychological assessment. The safeguarding program prepares officers who will be transferred to specialized areas or cases dealing with significant and traumatic experiences.

“Last term was a challenging year. We had three police shootings in the region and those put a lot of significant added pressure internally,” said Larkin.

As for police officers who have been mentally and emotionally affected, Larkin said each case is different as individuals will receive varying treatment plans from their physician about how they should proceed.

“There is no cookie-cutter approach because everybody deals with it differently. At the end of the day the goal is to get people healthy and [figure out] how we can support them and make sure they continue to thrive as a police officer and a member of our service,” he said.

A bill is currently under review, and if passed, it will acknowledge PTSD as a workplace-related illness.

Larkin said he would also like to see some legislation that would address awareness and prevention.

“I think we need to invest upfront. When somebody has a form of diagnosis, how do we stop that and how do we manage it.”

Larkin said what he hopes to achieve is “utopian” but necessary. He hopes to achieve a healthy and happy workplace.

“We recruit and hire normal people and we ask them to do an abnormal job. So the timing was right. I had a very clear mandate from the police services to launch this and we made it happen,” said Larkin.

“It will take some time to implement all these pieces because we live in a superhero profession but once in a while we need to recognize that police officers are human.”

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