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RCMP Mistreated You: PTSD or PTED?

Nov 09

Let’s say you’re an RCMP member who has been mistreated by your employer; you may even have a diagnosis of PTSD.  You may feel genuinely embittered, have a persistent sense of being let down, are disappointed, believe you have been unfairly treated, feel angry and revengeful but helpless to do anything about it.  And you just can’t let it go.  Your reaction may resemble PTSD, in some ways, but there is a growing group of mental health clinicians who would argue that what you are experiencing is more accurately termed Posttraumatic Embitterment Disorder (PTED).  While the latter didn’t make it into the latest edition of the DSM, it wasn’t for the lack of trying by a group of European and North American psychiatrists; lead by Dr. Michael Linden (2003) chief psychiatrist of the Berlin Free University’s psychiatric clinic.  According to Dr. Linden, “embitterment” can be regarded as a distinct mood state.  It can be differentiated from depression, anxiety, and anger; although it can share some of the features of these emotions and run parallel with them.  In contrast to anger, embitterment has overtones of powerlessness and a sense of being treated unfairly.  As you know from your own experience, it is possible to be angry at someone without feeling embittered.  Embitterment includes a sense of being let down.  It is composed of thoughts of being the victim of unjust treatment, a desire for revenge, and anger at not having a process (or the power) to get it.  Embitterment is chronic and seems to feed on itself.  Those who are embittered persistently relive the story of their victimization; they don’t seem able to work through it to acceptance (as a grieving person eventually accepts the death of a loved one).  These thoughts of being victimized somewhat mimic the intrusive thoughts of PTSD.  In addition, embittered persons are driven to endlessly relate their story in hopes of convincing others how unjustly they have been treated by an oppressive organization (or individual).

Those who subscribe to the idea of an embitterment reaction suggest that while anxiety is the driving emotion of PTSD, an embittered mood is the emotion behind PTED.  While PTSD is a response to “actual or threatened death”, PTED is hypothesized to derive from a threat to one’s basic belief system; that hypothetically could do as much damage as the threat inherent in a genuinely traumatic event.  In the case of PTED however, the threat comes more from an existential, metaphysical, or value-systems attack.  For example, an attack on how I think people “should” be treated.

Our basic belief system can be conceptualized as the values we learned as children through our development; the socialization process.  These values can include: religious beliefs; political beliefs; and societal values as well as our basic definitions of self and our goals in life.  The belief system serves to guide our behaviour and set our expectations over the course of our life time.  It can be characterized as resistant to change, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  When these basic beliefs are threatened or violated we can respond anywhere along a continuum running from, at one end, active opposition (e.g. social activism) to static embitterment at the other.

So back to you, or that person you know…imagine that he (or she) had his definition of himself destroyed or that his goals in life were blocked by the RCMP’s mistreatment of him.  Moreover, he believes that he has been treated unfairly, but is powerless to do anything about it.  He’s angry but this anger is different; it is tinged with helplessness and a desire for revenge.  And much to your frustration, he is unable (unwilling?) to “see the writing on the wall”.  He clings to the belief (fantasy?) that the RCMP will change (or that a lawyer will balance the scales of justice); that the Force will suddenly realize that he is among its greatest assets and it will give up its obsession with its own image.  What do you think PTSD or PTED?

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.


Linden, M. (2003).  The Posttraumatic Embitterment Disorder.  Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 72, 195-202.



From → PTSD

  1. Stu permalink

    Sad to say, but any mountie that doesn’t present with this, is as much of a problem as the Whiteshirts. Question is, what are you going to do about it? A good start is cancelling your “donation” to the SRR fund. Second is signing up to the MPPA. Third. Accept that nothing will change until YOU force the change.

    • Anonymous permalink

      Stu, you say any Mountie that doesn’t present with this is as much of a problem as whiteshirts, do you mean present their case for PTSD or PTED? Have you seen what is happening to members who do present (as shown on this site)? They don’t get any help because it’s not offered. As a former member, I’ve asked, but no one wanted to help. I was given a MEAP referral….no one called me. I was told ‘just take ODS for 6 weeks and see what happens from there’ and “I DID NOT DO THIS”. It also appears that it’s something the force would use against you for future promotions, if they think it’s fear tool to say ‘well you don’t handle stress very well so we’d rather not promote you into a position’ as I have heard this many times. Or perhaps I have misunderstood you? Please don’t think i’m disrespecting or making an attack on your opinion but only throwing in my two cents based on your post is all.

      Take a look at what’s happening to people who try to ‘force change’ for themselves who express they have ptsd or some stress disorder. They get marginalized, isolated, branded and put out to pasture where everyone else points the finger at them saying “that guy has problems, best we keep him at arms length from the goings-on of operations in case he snaps” without any further diagnosis from a doctor/psychologist, hoping that this feeling of disapproval and complete unacceptance from your peers will force you to quit. I see a few people fighting this but they will run out of gas as this fight carries on for YEARS!!! They try to make you believe that ‘we’re all sharing the same LEVEL OF STRESS’ but this IS NOT TRUE, and will make light of your issues and start making you question yourself (which shouldn’t happen) because they don’t know what to do nor want to admit they don’t have the skillsets to solve the issue and need to pretend to uphold this false RCMP image of perfection at the expense of members’ mental health.

  2. Rolly Beaulieu permalink

    Excellent piece Dr. Webster,

    I understand what you are saying. PTSD or PTED? I would think that it would really matter if there was some internal way of dealing with either. Unfortunately, the RCMP is out of step on all of this. They instead hunt for the diagnoses that best suits them. They are not interested in helping members that have been abused.

    So, I guess what I am trying to say is. It doesn’t really matter if I have PTSD or PTED, either way there is no way the RCMP will accept what you say or for that matter what anyone says on the issue of mental illness.

    Take a look at our current Commissioner. Remember the “Whistle” and “hand movement around his ear.” The international signal for CRAZY!!! What does his actions tell all of his subordinates? It tells them that it is OK to mistreat your people. This man is still the Commissioner because our government has lost its moral compass. He should have been fired on the spot or at least replaced, so those that he leads will see that behaviour is unacceptable. That did not happen. No instead this man went on public television under the protection of Parlimentary Priviledge/Protection from civil liability and accused me of trying to extort money from the RCMP. In his rant he names three names, one of which was mine. He knows that he has the ears of the government and access to powerful people who will do his bidding. What do I have? I have a Senate that is being investigated by the very man that runs the RCMP, the Commissioner of the RCMP.

    All of this should not pass anyone’s smell test.

    So again, I say how can any of this be good for any ones mental state.

    It is time to disband this organization before anymore RCMP members are injured. This is a very dangerous place to work. An immediate full and independent enquiry needs to be launched into this organization or I fear there will be many more mental injuries in this workplace.

  3. Anon permalink

    I feel both. I feel traumatized and embittered. Can there be such a thing as dual diagnosis Dr. Webster? When I first went off sick I suffered nightmares that someone in a long red coat was lurking around my bed as I slept. I cannot put this down to embitterment. I put it down to feeling invaded emotionally and psychologically. I have experienced the embitterment recently it makes me feel very unwell when really all I want to be is positive and that is the more natural and healthy of emotions, to feel hope. The thing with the embitterment is that we all know that life is not fair. You just have to take a look at the horror of the world to figure that one out. However just accepting that life isn’t fair, that we are worth more, that we should just accept our fate is not civilized progress. People have always striven for better working conditions. Years ago they used to send children up chimney’s and into mines. Would we do that now? Heck no, thank goodness. We progressed and we improved. In our country we sure can do a lot better than we are doing with these workplace related health issues. If demonstrating embitterment gives us the drive to bring these issues to light so that they can breathe a little then so be it. If we were all truly happy these issues would not exist, but they do and we are not. Therefore we need to discuss them openly and resolve them as best we can and as public servants it is our duty to inform the public of what is going wrong with the tax payers money. Ultimately we all want to be happy in our work. If we are happy it translates to the quality of our work, and our health improves.

    I think I am suffering from both issues and the fact that the RCMP do nothing to help me with the trauma in fact their ignorant and adverse treatment probably made it much worse than it ever needed it to be, it means that the embitterment gets worse. I do feel that I am doing the right thing by fighting it despite maybe appearing embittered to others because the importance of the issues and the outcome is much greater than my own ego. If people think I need to shut up now, then so be it, that is just their opinion, there are others who say keep going. When the women’s movement campaigned to bring the vote to women people called them extreme and insane. Some of them were sectioned for their beliefs. Imagine if they had remained silent and never taken that risk or made that sacrifice. I just believe we need to keep going. To keep the goal in mind. To visualize on what we want which is a much healthier workplace. Looking back and saying well it’s always been this way is not serving us well. We need to be flexible, progressive and idealistic. We cannot say it will never change. We have to say it’s up to us to change it from within.

  4. Anon permalink

    I think what is very clear is that the RCMP had no idea what they are doing with the health issues of their staff. It is a shambles. But why would they. Police services have the right to arrest under mental health and may know a little bit about criminal psychology but that is where the connection ends. The RCMP are a policing agency not a health care provider. Yes they have a duty to provide us with healthy working conditions but our medical records remain our own property. It is up to us to regain the control over our own health. We have allowed them to ride roughshod over us. We need to redefine our own boundaries with these matters. The commenter above is correct. The RCMP do not own our health docs. Our health docs are our own and it is up to us whether we allow them privy to this information. I for one have denied them access because they only use what is useful to them strategically and I have no time for that shenanigans.

    • catman permalink

      Yes, the RCMP is a policing agency but they do have an obligation to CARE for their employees…and that is supreme court law. A mental ailment is as detrimental, if not worse, than a physical ailment. Because of the nature of our work it only lends to common sense that some of us will suffer from mental health issues(ie,PTSD). However, in the RCMP the only training they give you (to protect yourself from work-related threats) is the police defence tactical training and firearms training. Sure we know how to restrain a suspect and what to do to reduce the risk in those situations but do we know anything about PTSD? Did anyone tell us or train/educate us as to what PTSD is and what we can do to minimize it? Did anyone ever tell us what symptoms to watch for? Did anyone ever tell us it was treatable? NO. Well there you go then. So I disagree that this is where the connection ends, Besides, the RCMP does have it’s own Health Services which is supposed to be equipped to deal with all health issues. The RCMP pays their doctors BIG bucks to get you back to work asap….and don’t worry, the Health Services staff knows who butters their bread and they will have you back to work asap whether you’re ready or not. They know how to appease the Gods. I also know for a fact that some of these doctors quit working for the RCMP because they did not believe in this. They had much better ethics and morals, not to mention there is a liability attached.
      So you say the RCMP is not a health care provider? Yet they do provide health care. They are also responsible to educate their employees as to the risks of the job. If an employee is suffering from PTSD yet they don’t know what it is, how would they know to get help? And in this culture we all know the stigma attached to showing signs of weakness anyway. Total unacceptance. I had nightmares for about a year and began to use to alcohol to quell the anxiety. I thought what I was experiencing was ‘just part of the job’ and I thought it would eventually subside. I also figured probably others were experiencing the same but just too scared to admit it, like me. So I kept pushing forward, worried that I might crash but trying to stay strong. I felt that my employer would not be accepting of my ‘weakness’, so I continued to drink to cope. And as time went by things got worse. Now, had I known that what I was experiencing was PTSD and that it was treatable I would have been able to go to the doctor and say, “Hey, I have these symptoms, can you help me?”. If we knew our employer acknowledged PTSD then we wouldn’t have such a hard time getting help. It is our employers job to cultivate an environment of trust and communication with it’s employees. But they aren’t doing a very good job of it. There is still so much that needs to be done to bridge the gaps and foster that environment of trust that we so well deserve and need.

  5. Anon permalink

    My arguement would be this. You can call it PTSD, PTED or whatever you want. When it comes to an organization like this where you can suffer trauma as a result of the exposure, or what you have to do on the job or what happens to you. Then to top it off you have an outfit that doesn’t support, or help you get better. I think the latter is another form of trauma, because your traumatized by the outfit. For the benefit of the RCMP being Veterans right now I would ask is PTED a recognized condition under Veterans Affairs, or even for other police departments through workers compensation? If no to me there is no point in being diagnosed with something that isn’t recognized is there? Medical professionals need to stick with what’s recognized in Canada for the benefit of their clients now and in the long term. Once these other things are recognized and treated with the same standards as other mental conditions then go with it. If not let’s stop creating another label to further confuse those already suffering and simply trying to accept what’s happened to them and be able to move forward because of it.

  6. corbettstu permalink

    Anonymous, Thanks for your input. To clarify, when I said “any member who doesn’t present with this is…” I meant that in the clinical sense. As in “presenting with signs and symptoms.” To sum up:
    Any RCMP employee who’s health has suffered isn’t crazy, weak or incompetent. You’re simply having a normal response to an abnormal environment.


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