COLUMN: Taking care of the people that take care of us

Delta Police Chief Constable Neil Dubord discusses the importance of supporting mental wellness in first responders.

Delta Police

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is the first in a series of monthly columns by Delta Police Chief Constable Neil Dubord about policing and related issues in our community.

When I swear in new recruits, I think about what their careers have in store for them. I know that they are going to experience some incredible things, but I am also very alive to the fact that these young men and women will respond to some terrible and tragic events. They will be called upon to investigate fatal motor vehicle accidents, sudden deaths, domestic assaults and many other files that can and will leave an impression on their minds.

Society’s front line, whether it is overseas peacekeeping, combat deployment, or our police, fire and medics here at home, protect our way of life and we have a duty to care for them both during their careers and after they have served. Only in recent years has the issue of police officer mental wellness moved to the forefront of thought in police leadership. We are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of single incident trauma as well as the cumulative trauma of witnessing scenes throughout the course of a career.

The Delta Police Department is working to counteract these negative experiences by developing a strategy to assist officers with maintaining a state of mental wellness. A key initiative is the Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR), which was developed by Canada’s Department of National Defence in order to create mental resiliency in our soldiers, and has been modified with the expertise of the Mental Health Commission of Canada for police forces.

We have trained a cadre of Delta Police officers who are now delivering the mandatory training to every police officer and staff in our organization. This training is also occurring for all staff of the Delta Fire Department, and the Honourable Carla Qualtrough is supporting Delta at the federal level on establishing a framework for supporting mental wellness for first responders and frontline emergency workers across Canada.

While front line training and advocacy for change at all levels of government is important, sharing personal stories is perhaps the most impactful when it comes to understanding operational stress injuries and its effect on our first responders. One Delta Police Officer shares his experience with his colleagues and friends in an effort to continue his personal journey of healing as well as inspire others to get past the stigma that some connect to mental health issues.

In his words, “I can be dumped into the middle of a riot or deal with an ERT call, but having to do a death notification, that has the greatest impact on my mental health. Delivering news to a family that their loved one has just died, and watching the sharp and intense grief take hold, it’s hard not to have an emotional reaction to it. For many years, I didn’t recognize the impact.

“Emotional stress from this job took its toll on me. I knew I needed help. When I disclosed that I was struggling with my own mental health issues, I was supported by all levels of the organization. I fought past the stigma and while I know that it is a work in progress, I felt empowered and in control.

“It is my hope that others who are suffering know that they too will get support from their colleagues, their friends and family, and from the Delta Police Department. Policing brings with it highly stressful and emotionally traumatic situations and caring for our psychological health – from day one – is the first step in maintaining our emotional wellness.”

There is no single or quick fix to officer mental wellness. In fact it takes a constant and dedicated effort to maintain mental wellness while working as a first responder. So in addition to R2MR training, we encourage healthy lifestyle choices – fitness, good diet, proper sleep, a focus on the family – which all play a part in a healthy mind, body and spirit. I am incredibly proud of the men and women of the Delta Police Department that serve the citizens of Delta; they have chosen one of the most challenging, yet rewarding careers. And it is with this pride that I commit to using all the tools at our disposal to create a resilient organization and keep #DPDStrong.

To learn more about R2MR, visit Mental Health Commission of Canada’s website at mentalhealthcommission.ca.