NEWS

Toronto police board defers adoption of mental health standards

10/10/2014 08:01 EDT | Updated 12/10/2014 05:59 EST
The Toronto Police Services Board voted Thursday to postpone adopting a set of national mental health standards, a move many critics say leaves officers vulnerable to the psychological and emotional stresses of the job.

The civilian board deferred a recommendation by chair Alok Mukherjee to adopt the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, a framework for preventing “harm due to workplace factors” that has been endorsed by mental health organizations across the country.

The board’s decision came one day after it was revealed that an officer with York Regional Police took his own life this week.

Since the end of April, there have been 17 first responder suicides in Ontario, including nine police officers, according to the Tema Conter Memorial Trust, an organization dedicated to promoting awareness of first responder mental health issues in Canada.

“They had the chance yesterday to stand up and say, we care about the mental health of our members. Instead they chose to say ‘we need to think about it a little bit more’,” said Heidi Rogers, the widow of Richard Rogers, a Toronto police officer who took his own life in his family home in July.

'One of the boys until you're not'

Richard Rogers, a 24-year veteran of the force, left a note that blamed Toronto Police Services for their alleged role in his ongoing mental health issues. He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression and anxiety for nearly 12 years before his death.

Hiedi Rogers said on CBC’s Metro Morning Friday that her husband tried to get help from his superiors 13 months before his suicide, but was turned away and ridiculed by his peers.

“You’re one of the boys until you’re not,” said Heidi Rogers, who remembered her husband as an “empathetic and compassionate” officer who loved policing.

Rogers, who attended the police board meeting and has championed the adoption of mental health standards, said that there are many other first responders who are suffering in silence.

“People say to me, ‘I’m not going to come forward because I know what will happen. I don’t want to seek help or I don’t want to speak out because I know there will be reprisal … my career will be over’,” Rogers told CBC News.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said Thursday that the board should move quickly to get better standards in place and implement them as soon as possible.

“Not only adopt standard but implement processes and programs and provide resources to help us, help them, deal with the rigours and burdens that are associated with police work.”

Rogers vowed to continue her mission to improve mental health assistance for first responders, despite the board’s decision.

“Im going to fight, and continue to fight, to see that people at the top make the necessary changes and will not tolerate this behaviour amongst themselves,” she said. 

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