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The suicide of Corporal Ron Francis of the RCMP was a tragic loss. As a veteran police officer of twenty-two years, Francis struggled with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a “condition,” according to the RCMP, that “took over and consumed him.”[1]

The RCMP is not alone in struggling to cope with a growing number of its employees being diagnosed with PTSD. Francis is just one of the twenty-three suicides committed by Canadian emergency responders since April of this year. The rate of PTSD among emergency workers is over double that of the general public, a startling statistic that reflects the stress and strain emergency personnel experience on a daily basis.[2] Emergency responders are hired to clean up society’s messes, which is why PTSD is a problem all of society must own.

But the nature of the duties being performed by emergency personnel is not all there is to the problem. For many police forces in Canada, police culture is an important contributor to the increase in PTSD diagnoses. Codes of masculinity within the RCMP, for example, continue to inform the heroic image of the police force. As a male-dominated organization whose members “always get their man,” Mounties are still considered ideally masculine men who serve as iconic representations of the nation. There is little room for Mounties who do not meet the standards and traditions that have dominated the police force for 140 years.

These codes are reinforced as early as a Mountie’s time at the training academy. There, cadets are trained to suppress their emotions, a demeanor that is equated with professionalism. Historically, cadets were also trained to apply group pressure to the weakest link in their troop, usually a member struggling to meet the demands of the force’s rigorous training program. It is not surprising, then, that an RCMP officer diagnosed with PTSD at the detachment level is viewed as a weak link whose ability to protect the public, and his or her co-workers during dangerous situations, is suspect.

The response by Assistant Commissioner Roger Brown to Francis’s PTSD as an unfortunate condition that “consumed” him minimizes the complexities of a systemic problem within the police force. While the RCMP trains its police officers to be the best they can be physically, little is invested in training them how to be psychologically resilient.[3] As a result, few Mounties are prepared for coping with repeated exposures to psychological trauma over time, a circumstance that makes the passing of Corporal Ron Francis all the more tragic.

[1] Kevin Bissett, “Death of Mountie Who Shed Light on PTSD a Terrible Loss, RCMP Says,” October 7, 2014. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/natinal/death-of-mountie-who-shed-light-on-ptsd-a-terrible-loss.

[2] Mark Gollom, CBC News, “Why Emergency Services Need a ‘Culture Change’ to Deal With PTSD,” September 29, 2014. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/why-emergency-services-need-a-culture-change-to-deal-with-ptsd.

[3] Dr. Ken Welburn quoted in “Why Emergency Services Need a ‘Culture Change’.” Ibid.

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