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RCMP Members’ Health: Who’s To Blame?

Mar 22

Are you a member of the RCMP?  If so, are you still able to drag yourself to work, or have you succumbed to one of a variety of emotional reactions to the excessive level of stress (toxicity or culture of fear) in your workplace and gone “off duty sick”?  Are you able to muster the motivation, on a daily basis, to serve the public to the best of your ability?  Have you considered leaving the Force?  Do you feel trapped?  Have you ever considered that with an independent association to represent your rights (no different than those of your municipal colleagues) and a collective bargaining agreement in place that you could rekindle the pride and motivation you once had?

The following brief post outlines a social justice (i.e. worker’s rights) approach (an RCMP Association would concern itself with such issues) to the prevention of mental health problems.  Those of you who read this blog know that my practice as a psychologist rests on a foundation of social justice.  Unlike many of my colleagues, I am not reticent to mix my politics with my practice.  This post will attempt to offer a framework for understanding the role your employer plays in your mental health; and what you can do about it.

Who is responsible for your mental health?

The primary prevention of mental conditions in our society is the concern of the field of Public Health.  The latter has been largely focused on preventing specific diseases or pathological organic conditions, most of which are clearly defined and can be reliably identified with a good deal of precision and objectivity.  A cursory review of the accomplishments of Public Health reveals efforts to conquer the plague, rabies, tuberculosis, polio, small pox, asbestos poisoning, lead and mercury poisoning to name only a few.  More recently, Public Health has set its sights on lifestyle and how it contributes to disease.  Relationships between tobacco, alcohol and diseases like cancer and cirrhosis of the liver have been targeted; in addition, improper nutrition, excess stress, obesity, and the lack of exercise have been linked with coronary artery disease and stroke.

What causes a mental condition?

A key factor in Public Health’s attempts to prevent psychopathological conditions (i.e. psychological disorders) is the undeniable fact that many of these conditions are not “diseases” in the usual sense.  With only a small number of obvious exceptions, most of the conditions regarded as psychopathological are disorders of thought, feeling, and behaviour for which no diagnostic, laboratory, or other objective tests exist.  The use of terms like “mental illness” or “mental injury” are attempts to medicalize thought and feeling in the absence of any evidence that something medical is going on (including PTSD).  The identification of “mental illness” is usually a judgement based upon interview or some superficial (psychometric) testing of symptoms.  Even though North American psychiatry has largely abandoned its psychodynamic (e.g. Freudian) roots and embraced a biological approach to mental disorders (emphasizing heredity and bio-chemistry as causes) one critical fact remains; most psychological conditions are not identifiable by objective diagnostic tests (e.g. like those used by the physician to follow your symptoms to a diseased heart) and have not been proven to be real organic diseases (e.g. like heart disease).  On the other hand, epidemiologists have revealed clear and strong relationships between most mental conditions and one or more of this cluster of variables:

a)      Emotionally damaging infant and/or childhood experiences;

b)      Poverty and/or degrading life experiences;

c)       Powerlessness and low self esteem; and

d)      Loneliness, social isolation or social marginality

Are you able to see a connection in at least some of these variables, between your mental condition and the way your employer has treated you?

The role of the organization in your mental health.

At this point in time it is uncontroversial that society (and its constituent organizations, institutions, and policies) plays a role in the mental health of its citizens.  The effect of organizational oppression and the consequences of the stress of living with social injustice (e.g. an abuse of your rights as a worker) are widely recognized.  A well respected author (Albee & Ryan-Finn, 1993) has even developed a social justice model for predicting the incidence of mental health problems in a population.  He suggested that the incidence of mental health problems could be predicted by dividing the level of organic (individual) factors, stress, and exploitation by the amount of coping skills, self esteem, and support groups available to an individual or population.  He argued that the amounts of stress and exploitation experienced by a member of an oppressed group were equal to or greater, in the creation of mental health problems, than were organic factors; and on the flipside of the coin, when both individuals and environments are healthy, they can contribute to resiliency.  Are you aware of how RCMP dysfunction has affected your mental health?  Do you think you’ll be able to rehabilitate the Force on your own?  Has your Division Staff Relations Representative Program (DSRRP) helped?  Do you think an independent association would have a better chance?

Conclusion

Within the above noted emphases on social justice and an environmental approach is the basis for the primary prevention (or at least reduction) of reactive (emotional) disorders in the RCMP.  I suggest that the predominant approach to mental disorders within the RCMP’s Occupational Health and Safety section (or whatever they call themselves these days?) emphasizes treatment over prevention and focuses its energy and resources largely on individuals rather than the organization’s well recognized toxic environments.  There are many social justice critics who will tell you that prevention must be proactive.  Your efforts to bring about change within the RCMP must take aim at the organization’s pathological culture of fear and its dysfunctional systems rather than the victims of those factors.  You must push for change that will eliminate (or at least reduce) your exposure to exploitation and the stress that results from oppression, victimization, discrimination, harassment, inequality, and intimidation.  Do you think you can do this on your own?  Has your DSRRP helped?  Do you think an independent RCMP members’ association might have a better chance?  Are you content with a known amount of misery, or are you willing to step off into something new that just might be able to assist you in feeling better?  How would you vote if given the chance; DSRRP paid by the employer, or an independent association paid by you?

Dr. Mike Webster, R. Psych.

Reference

Albee, G.W. &  Ryan-Finn, J.D. (1993).  An overview of primary prevention.  Journal of Counseling Development, 72, 115-123.

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9 Comments
  1. Anonymous permalink

    I would much rather be a part of an organization independent of the RCMP. That’s why I joined the MPPAC (Mounted Police Professional Organization). I totally support the MPPAC.

    Back in the day, when I believed in the RCMP and trusted them and their processes, I thought/assumed that such a fine police force (“Canada’s finest”) knew their business and was therefore well informed on how to manage their people, thus creating a healthy, respectable and enjoyable work environment. After all, before I joined the force I worked in a field where leadership was a valued quality. As a matter of fact, that company actually sent their employees across the country on “Leadership” courses. Those managers knew that in order to manufacture the best quality product, they needed to have a commitment from their employees. They knew how important it was for the employees to be treated with respect, dignity and care. Imagine managers and labourers, both in tune and committed to working towards the same goal which is high productivity and the best of quality in the final product. If product quality was low the customer rejected the deal and went elsewhere for a better quality product. There were many other businesses in competition with this one.
    And of course, the health and safety of the employees came first and both sides understood and honored that. If an injury occurred, the place could be shut down, which meant the production line came to a halt. No business can afford that, as time is money. Again, management was smart and they knew they needed to treat their employees with respect, dignity and care. It was a win-win situation.
    I have a theory as to why the RCMP has become the controlling, small-minded, vindictive, bullying, uncaring, unsympathetic, callous business it is today. The RCMP has no competitors. They have no one to compete against for quality. The Canadian Public is stuck with them so they must put up with what they get and so must the members. RCMP managers are not compelled or interested in creating and sustaining a healthy, respectful work environment because they don’t feel they have to. They do not wish to work ‘with’ the employees to create a happy, healthy work environment. Instead they make a point to control their employees and treat them like children who cannot think for themselves. How can an employee who is treated this way feel like he/she is contributing to an organization when they are constantly kept on the outside and treated with no respect or care? Management has divided the RCMP into “they and we”. Those who control and the worker bees.

    “Leadership course 101” – The success of any business is dependent on the productivity of the employees. The productivity/performance of employees is directly related to the health and happiness of the employees. It’s this simple.

  2. Anonymous permalink

    Harassment x 2 has left me feeling numb, angry, anxious, depressed, and abandoned. Yes, this as well. It has been over six months and not a meeting or scheduled one, to discuss and find out what the issues are between myself and my employer. They ignore it, no phone call, no letter from them stating what can do to help you. I am off work now, and may never go back, so what is it they want the employee to do, I am doing what I can, without abusing drugs, or alcohol. This has sent my health into a tailspin and I am doing everything I can stay well and function. When they find that you have been harassed and bullied they ignore it … they show no compassion, no accountability and no integrity. This had better be dealt with soon, or it’s going to be “publicized” protected stuff or not. Because if they stand by and ignore what happens, they will pay the price. The mood out there is starting to change, people are organizing, there is a face to all this abuse and it will be shown sooner than later. So why should I give a care about all of this, because I am human and I have a right to be respected, and treated with dignity. Until this is dealt with and understood, the RCMP will never have the respect from the Canadian People because they simply see the damage it has caused its employees.

    • Anonymous permalink

      You are doing all you can do? By not going to work, and making statements like you may never go back? Quit hiding behind threats of releasing information. If you have evidence of wrongdoing just put it out there. No more empty threats. Or quit and move on with your life.

      • Anonymous permalink

        Your comments are quick and cutting and do nothing but further alienate this Member. All in good time. When they are stronger and more able to take on the fight, they will do what needs to be done. In the meantime, health and state of mind are most important at this point. Both will be needed and tested in the times to come.

      • Cpl. Stewart Robertson, LMD Members Support Group Chair permalink

        Easier said than done, A-n-o-n. “Quit and move on with your life”???? Easy to hide behind anonymity and others who judge those that have been subject to abuse, assault, harassment and still try to carry on despite the lack of courage from LEADERS??? to step up and lead. What makes you more of a Mountie than those who have fought through criminal abuse? “Hiding behind threats of releasing information”, you lack even the most basis sense of being part of a team and applying dedication to your profession.

        Those who love their calling and profession enough to step up and speak the truth to try and save it from the inevitable path of destruction the current culture has set it on are clearly more courageous than you. The hardest thing for these members to do is to speak up in an effort to save what they and all Canadians hold most dear as being a citizen of this great country.

        Until you are ready to step up and be a leader, park your ass on the bench and continue to whine from the sidelines.

        Stewart

      • Anonymous permalink

        Well Anonymous, you are part of the problem. How dare you challenge a Member when he is down. IF YOU HAVE EVIDENCE OF WRONG DOING””””” do you live under a Rock or maybe you are one of the abuser’s of the System.
        Because I believe that the ABUSER’S of the system are Our Upper management and their Minions that loves to drag Members spirit down by Threatening them, Harassing them, bullying them. Then these same people want us to believe that members that are sick are abusing the system. Please explain to me. We know that when Management was pressed by DSRRP to give us numbers on How many members are actually OFF SICK.. The number that management could find was aprox 193 members NATION WIDE…… Now I don’t have a PHD or a Bachelor in Human resources or in management you see I’m from the OLD SCHOOL . I get my boots dirty by Investigating FACTS not fiction. How Management say that we have and abuse of our SICK LEAVE when less then 1% of our workforce is off sick. When Management decide to place members that they don’t want UNDER the SICK LEAVE budget .. Now that is the problem. Speaking of Quit and get on with your Life… maybe you should get a Life. I’ve work before joining the RCMP and I will Work after. The world does not spin around the RCMP AND IT’S MINIONS.

      • Aught Buck permalink

        You’ve obviously never put forth evidence of wrongdoing in the RCMP. If you are a member and have never lodged a complaint or given a statement, then you are a coward because God knows you’ve witnessed wrongdoing, every member has.

  3. mixer permalink

    Who do I want to help me the Dsrrp or a Union ? I want someone who cares. Like we tell our kids our clients our friends you can’t buy Love or compassion. Some human have lots to give and some will never understand. I remember when our Health Services… would help. They like us on the Front lines have been cut to below bare minimum. Our Human Resourse in Ottawa, as those in every province are soo understaffed that they are below operational level. Our Leaders have forgotten or don’t care about their most important asset … IT’S EMPLOYEE’S. I don’t care if it’s Federal Employee, Municipal, Regular Member, Civilian Member. We are CALLED Employee’s without them you cannot operate. If we go out to the Public Sector for help… it’s either not going to be paid for because this Specialist is not on the (A) List, your in a poor Province. Or there is No specialist in your area.
    So PTSD grow’s like any other Viral disease. If you make it through the Disease you were FAKING IT !… If you don’t and remain off work your PLAYING THE SYSTEM. Either way WE are Classified NON TEAM PLAYER or A Weakling so you must be ELIMINATED. Yes the RCMP has to Change and START CARING, but OUR SOCIETY ALSO HAS TO CHANGE. No I’m not saying the RCMP is doing it RIGHT. They are way BELOW STANDARD, on the Human Resource level. IF sais it before we need more guys like Dr Webster inside and outside the RCMP. We were all FORCE to take that stupid Harassment ONLINE Course. You sit down at you desk find time or challenge the EXAM but you must get it done. The RCMP does not care what you understood they just want the numbers to show they did their JOB…. ( no they didn’t)

    Respect is EARNED not Forced upon or BOUGHT. When the Buffalo remembers to RESPECT its MOST IMPORTANT ASSET. Then and Only then will Joe Public be able to give Respect to the RCMP because he will see RESPECT in the RCMP.

  4. EFAMIA permalink

    Mr. Cooper hit the nail on the head. The RCMP has become a bureaucratic morass. RCMP Bureaucrats like A/Commr. Moreau are more concerned with rules and the “check the box philosophy” than Members, just ask S/Sgt. Baulkam and Cst. Tad Milmine. They have radically departed from being innovative to being risk averse. It’s unfortunate and a shame that “liability” has replaced “members first” as the RCMP mantra. We will be losing more good members I am sure because of it.
    ***********************************************************************************************************************

    (Prime Time Crime exclusive Mar. 30, 2014)

    Mr. Whatif

    By Bob Cooper

    If you haven’t seen this story on Global please read it and watch both the interviews with S/Sgt. Brent Baulkham and Assistant Commissioner Gilles Moreau before you read this column so you can form your own opinions. Normally I’d just give you the Coles Notes version but these are worth watching. I realize there may be other factors we’re not aware of but S/Sgt. Baulkham appears to be the type of high quality NCO who, despite his own pain, went out of his way to make things better for others and his loss to the RCMP seems very sad.

    Rising number of PTSD cases among RCMP costing taxpayers millions

    With PTSD at an all-time high and a Sick List longer than Rob Ford’s bar tab, I wondered why the RCMP would toss out 2 years of work on a concept that’s apparently worked very well in the military. They’re in desperate need of good news stories and this program sounds like an absolute winner. Getting rid of it? Not a good news story. A 1-800 number? Really not a good news story. Ask anyone who’s ever tried to contact the government, a bank, or their cell-phone provider.
    As soon as I heard A/Commr. Moreau use the word ‘liability’ I knew exactly what had happened because I’ve seen it happen before. It would usually start with a group of us being assigned to find the solution to a problem. We’d kick it around a bit and before long someone would come up with a nice, simple, common-sense answer. We’d all look at each other thinking the same thing. Let’s write this puppy up and get out of here. They don’t expect us back for days and if we hurry we can tee off by 10 o’clock.

    Except for Mr. Whatif. Mr. Whatif takes many forms but we’ve all known him. The ever-cautious bureaucrat who searches for reasons not to do things. In law enforcement he’s usually a ‘carpet cop’ but in this case I suspect he may have been a lawyer. Mr. Whatif was a fixture at every meeting just like whiteboards or flipcharts and you knew a pearl of wisdom was coming because it was always preceded by an emphatic pause accompanied by some pseudo-intellectual gesture like staring intently around the room while moving his glasses down the bridge of his nose ever so slightly, taking the glasses off entirely for full effect, or sitting back in his chair and staring at the ceiling as if his words were coming with Divine inspiration. Like one of those bogus exercises at the New Westminster Academy of Drama, otherwise known as the Assessment Center. Portraying himself as the independent, outside the box thinker. Then he’d say “Sounds good on its face but Whatif (giant meteor, earthquake, floods, famine, take your pick)? I think we should run it by Risk Management and maybe send it up to Planning & Research”.

    Now Mr. Whatif’s pals really go to town and the idea will never see the light of day, at least not in any form you’d recognize. First, they’ll complicate it beyond recognition to remove any possible element of risk however remote, then they’ll cleanse it of any trace of common sense, and finally, they’ll take it from a short, simple paragraph and turn it into a 9 page entry in the Regulation & Procedure Manual that will have to be memorized by the poor shmucks writing the Promotion Exam that year. Arguing with Mr. Whatif is pointless and will just leave you branded as reckless fools.
    What this comes down to is that the RCMP are afraid some member is going to give another member a piece of bad advice that they’ll be on the hook for, and it’s far better to leave this stuff to professionals. Firstly, professionals are as capable as anyone else of giving bad advice. The guy at the bottom of his class at Med School is still called Doctor. Many of the cops I knew who killed themselves were under the care of a professional when they did it. I’m not in any way blaming the professional, I’m just saying that sometimes having letters behind your name is no guarantee of success. Secondly, cops have been giving each other bad advice for centuries on everything including dating, cars, marriage, & investments (the latter usually being the worst – friendships survive the rest) but they will open up to other cops for the simple reason that they understand each other like no outsider ever could. In most cases they don’t want advice or psychoanalysis. They just want someone they know and trust to listen to them and reassure them that the sun will come up tomorrow and this too shall pass.

    When someone is threatening to jump off a bridge they don’t get a ‘professional’ they get a cop. If they’re lucky, the cop is a trained Negotiator. If not, the cop does the best he or she can. Negotiator training only started in the late 70s & early 80s but cops have been talking people off ledges since the days of Robert Peel partly because in an emergency everyone else defaults to them and partly because they’re good at talking to people. If the guy jumps I wouldn’t think the liability would be much different but cops still climb up on that bridge to do it.
    In addition to the ‘liability’ issue I suspect that management’s interests are better served by having members seen by third parties in the pay of the government rather than friends or colleagues who would tend to advocate for them. Returning members to duty is the overarching goal here and we’ve all heard some incredible stories about phonies who should have been dropped in Depot who are just milking the system and doing so for years. If all they do is get rid of these people I say good on them but when a process becomes one-sided it becomes open to abuse resulting in members being returned to duty before they’re ready or being released if their course of recovery isn’t viewed as cost-effective.

    At present the RCMP are largely depending on a 1-800 number and web-based resources but a new program is on the way that will eliminate “informal groups” because “we are not in the treating business” (translation – your treatment’s been outsourced) and sounds typically very heavy on procedure. The spectre of Obamacare looms large. A/Commr. Moreau, citing his own experience, emphasized several times that the onus is on the member (and, by omission, not on the RCMP). What a lot of members will hear is ‘You’re on your own. Welcome to our new Self-Service Employee Assistance Facility’. While I respect him for being able to recognize a problem & seek help for himself, many members in that situation either don’t realize it or are in denial and the onus is very much on the agency to be proactive.

    In a previous column on PTSD

    http://www.primetimecrime.com/contributing/2011/20111024cooper.htm

    I wrote:
    “As a responsible, compassionate employer the VPD takes a back seat to no one in looking after its people and help is available 24/7. As evidence of how things have improved, over the space of a few years in the late 70s and early 80s, I knew 4 VPD members who committed suicide. The VPD began taking a much more proactive approach and since then, timely intervention has prevented numerous tragedies, helped a lot of members deal with their problems and return to full duty, and the VPD did not experience another suicide for about 20 years. But it only works if you ask.”
    I recall thinking that the VPD went way overboard with counselling on occasion but looking back I now believe that it’s far better to err on the side of caution and the stats would tend to bear that out. The VPD has internal issues like any other agency but in their model the people who do the heavy lifting at the outset are mostly serving members resulting in a much lower rate of PTSD and other absences. I was offered that help when a friend committed suicide even though I was retired and along with guys I used to work with, I went through a session run by serving members and a psychologist who was experienced in dealing with cops. Later that evening the psychologist phoned me at home to make sure I was alright. I’ll never forget that experience and the nicest part was knowing the job cared enough about us to reach out.

    I’m not saying there’s no place for professionals in the treatment process but there is most definitely a place for fellow members. It’s certainly better than picking up the phone and hearing “All of our representatives are busy serving other clients. Your call is important to us so please stay on the line blah, blah, blah”.

    Bob Cooper is a retired Vancouver policeman. He walked a beat in Chinatown and later worked in the Asian Organized Crime Section and the Homicide Squad.

    http://primetimecrime.com/contributing/2014/20140330cooper.htm

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