RCMP IN FO­CUS: Moun­ties’ men­tal health pro­grams are in­ad­e­quate due to lack of re­sources, au­di­tor gen­eral says

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - JIM BRONSKILL

OT­TAWA — The RCMP is fail­ing to meet the men­tal health needs of its mem­bers due to a lack of re­sources, poor mon­i­tor­ing and mea­gre sup­port from su­per­vi­sors, says the fed­eral spend­ing watch­dog.

While the Moun­ties were among the first fed­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions to in­tro­duce a men­tal health strat­egy, they did not make its full im­ple­men­ta­tion a pri­or­ity, au­di­tor gen­eral Michael Fer­gu­son says in a re­port tabled Tues­day.

Some RCMP mem­bers even told the au­di­tor that coming for­ward with men­tal health con­cerns led to reprisals from bosses.

The find­ings come one day af­ter a pair of sharply worded fed­eral re­views on ha­rass­ment in the RCMP called for greater civil­ian over­sight and ex­per­tise to en­sure the na­tional po­lice ser­vice is a healthy and re­spect­ful em­ployer.

Fer­gu­son’s re­port says that although more than half of mem­bers re­ceived easy and timely ac­cess to the men­tal health they needed, one in six mem­bers did not. In more than one-quar­ter of cases, the RCMP did not even have records that would al­low the au­di­tor to as­sess whether mem­bers got the help they re­quired.

In ad­di­tion, su­per­vi­sors and health ser­vices staff didn’t prop­erly sup­port mem­bers re­turn­ing to du­ties from men­tal health sick leave, the au­di­tor says. One in five mem­bers who sought ser­vices did not re­sume work or was dis­charged.

Fes­ter­ing men­tal health is­sues can lead to in­creased ab­sen­teeism, work­place con­flict, high turnover, low pro­duc­tiv­ity and in­creased use of dis­abil­ity and health ben­e­fits, the au­di­tor notes.

RCMP man­age­ment agreed with the au­di­tor’s rec­om­men­da­tions to help ful­fil the force’s men­tal health strat­egy.

Pub­lic Safety Min­is­ter Ralph Goodale said the po­lice ser­vice had al­ready taken steps to ad­dress some of the rec­om­men­da­tions. In ad­di­tion, he noted the govern­ment is work­ing on a co-or­di­nated strat­egy on post-trau­matic stress injuries.

En­sur­ing the suc­cess of the force’s men­tal health strat­egy would send a mes­sage not only to the Moun­ties but to the pub­lic ser­vice as a whole that when the govern­ment says men­tal health ser­vices are im­por­tant, “they’re ac­tu­ally go­ing to back that up,” Fer­gu­son told a news con­fer­ence.

“I think that this is an is­sue that goes be­yond the RCMP.”

The force, which has 29,000 em­ploy­ees, es­ti­mated last Septem­ber that about 900 reg­u­lar and civil­ian mem­bers were on sick leave, the re­port says. How­ever, the Moun­ties could not say how many were on leave for men­tal health rea­sons be­cause the or­ga­ni­za­tion did not col­lect and re­port such in­for­ma­tion.

Coming up with that num­ber would mean sift­ing through pa­per files, the au­di­tor was told. Fer­gu­son found the RCMP failed to: put a busi­ness plan in place or al­lo­cate re­sources to sup­port its men­tal health strat­egy, mean­ing pro­grams for early de­tec­tion and in­ter­ven­tion were de­layed;

en­sure health ser­vices of­fices in all di­vi­sions had the ca­pac­ity to man­age mem­bers’ cases;

pro­vide timely ac­cess to men­tal health treat­ment for all mem­bers;

sup­port its mem­bers on off-duty sick leave or ad­e­quately ac­com­mo­date their re­turn to work.

A sur­vey con­ducted by the au­di­tor gen­eral revealed that many mem­bers were re­luc­tant to seek help for men­tal health con­di­tions be­cause they were wor­ried it would neg­a­tively af­fect their ca­reers.

Some mem­bers told the au­di­tor in in­ter­views that when they came for­ward they felt that they were not be­lieved and were la­belled fak­ers, sub­jected to reprisals from their su­per­vi­sors or so­cially iso­lated in the work­place.

SEAN KIL­PATRICK, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Au­di­tor Gen­eral Michael Fer­gu­son speaks dur­ing a news con­fer­ence in Ot­tawa on Tues­day af­ter tabling his spring re­port in the House of Com­mons.

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