10/09/2014 18:34 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST

RCMP group issues PTSD 'call to action' after Ron Francis's suicide

A group that represents thousands of Mounties on labour issues is calling on senior RCMP management and the government to act quickly to provide more support for officers struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada's "call to action" comes in the wake of the suicide of Cpl. Ron Francis, who had been on medical leave from the force's J Division in New Brunswick.

Francis, 43, was found dead on Monday after a very public struggle with PTSD. The 21-year veteran made national headlines for his stand on smoking medicinal marijuana while in uniform.

"Unfortunately, much more could have and should have been done to help our fellow officer," association president Rae Banwarie said in a statement Thursday.

"This loss must give us a renewed urgency to bring to light the high cost our members and families are paying because of insufficient action around PTSD," he said.

The police association, which represents about 2,000 RCMP members across the country on issues related to their employment, is seeing far too many members take their own lives, said Banwarie, who had met with Francis several times and was "familiar with his struggles."

"This most recent potent and heartbreaking reminder has to focus us all on this issue," Banwarie said.

"Treatment must become a much higher priority. We have to ensure that nothing takes precedence over the health and wellness of members, and we must act urgently to remove the stigma around members asking for — and offering — help.”

Banwarie is also encouraging members to reach out to one another, particularly those who may be feeling harassed, threatened, overwhelmed or belittled for suffering with PTSD, and let them know they are not alone.

Earlier this week, Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown, the RCMP's commanding officer for J Division in New Brunswick, credited Francis for having "helped shine a light on post-traumatic stress disorder affecting emergency first responders."

Brown said he is confident the RCMP did everything it could do to reach out and respond to Francis and provide him with the support he needed.