Three weeks, three sui­cides

Worked at dif­fer­ent jobs, de­tach­ments

Calgary Herald - - NP - Christie BlatCh­ford

Three On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice of­fi­cers have com­mit­ted sui­cide in the past three weeks.

Though the family of the first of­fi­cer to take his own life, Sgt. Syl­vain Routhier, di­rectly con­fronted the na­ture of their loss in a pub­lic obit­u­ary, the deaths of the other two of­fi­cers weren’t sim­i­larly de­scribed in theirs, so the Na­tional Post isn’t iden­ti­fy­ing them.

But var­i­ous sources con­firm the other two also killed them­selves.

The three worked in dif­fer­ent jobs at dif­fer­ent de­tach­ments.

Routhier, who was 37, was a 13-year vet­eran and a former mem­ber of one of the OPP’s elite Tac­tics and Res­cue Units. He had a wide-open smile and was an avid Mon­treal Cana­di­ens’ fan and mi­nor hockey coach.

As is typ­i­cal of those on the On­tario-wide force, Routhier had served in sev­eral ci­ties across the prov­ince, but most re­cently was at the Quinte West de­tach­ment in Tren­ton.

He was mar­ried and left be­hind three chil­dren. As his obit­u­ary said, “he took his own life on Tues­day, July 31, 2018, af­ter a brief battle with men­tal ill­ness.”

The sec­ond to die, on Aug. 11, was a 50-year-old vet­eran and former sol­dier who had served sev­eral over­seas tours and was de­scribed as a won­der­ful man by those who knew him.

Af­ter 24 years on the job, he had risen to be­come a de­tec­tive-in­spec­tor in the OPP’s or­ga­nized crime en­force­ment bureau and was based in the force’s east re­gion.

He too left be­hind two chil­dren, and his widow is her­self a serv­ing OPP of­fi­cer.

The third of­fi­cer died on Mon­day at the age of 38.

He was an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of­fi­cer in the force’s west di­vi­sion and is sur­vived by his wife and a young daugh­ter. In the online con­do­lence book for him, friends re­mem­bered his kind­ness on and off the job.

Three years ago, he and an­other OPP con­sta­ble were praised for their des­per­ate ef­forts to save a 74-year-old man who had choked and was without vi­tal signs when they ar­rived on scene. The two of­fi­cers took over CPR un­til they got a pulse back, but the man later died at hos­pi­tal.

The of­fi­cer’s fu­neral is Sun­day.

OPP Com­mis­sioner Vince Hawkes is clearly stricken by the losses.

Tak­ing his cues from the be­reaved fam­i­lies, Hawkes tweeted about the first two deaths, prais­ing Routhier’s wife Sarah “for her brav­ery in build­ing men­tal health aware­ness” and adding the hash­tags #men­tal health and #HeroesIn­Life to his words of con­do­lence about the sec­ond man.

Hawkes also is­sued a for­mal state­ment this week, say­ing “We are deeply dev­as­tated by the re­cent loss of three of our mem­bers” and pledg­ing his com­mit­ment “to ex­am­in­ing the bar­ri­ers that ex­ist pre­vent­ing our mem­bers from seek­ing as­sis­tance and sup­port.”

He urged OPP of­fi­cers to con­tact “one of our many sup­port ser­vices” if they rec­og­nize a fel­low of­fi­cer in need.

“To­gether, we can over­come the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal ill­ness and sup­port each other in our times of need.”

Sources say the force’s se­nior com­mand is trou­bled by the sui­cides and has met to dis­cuss them, but that it’s too soon to know if there are any di­rect links to the of­fi­cers’ jobs, if any or all were suf­fer­ing from Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der or an­other “op­er­a­tional stress in­jury,” as ill­nesses re­lated to trauma on the job are called, an­other men­tal ill­ness or if there’s any ev­i­dence of what psy­chi­a­trists call “a con­ta­gion,” which is where sui­cides some­times oc­cur in clus­ters.

The force has an em­ployee as­sis­tance pro­gram and offers coun­selling to its of­fi­cers, but some say that ei­ther the coun­sel­lors aren’t suf­fi­ciently fa­mil­iar with PTSD or that the coun­selling that is cov­ered by in­sur­ance is too short.

Wait times to see a psy­chi­a­trist have also been an issue in the past.

In 2012, then-On­tario om­buds­man An­dre Martin did a study of sui­cide within the OPP and the force’s ap­proach to get­ting its mem­bers help.

At that time, Marin was study­ing the sui­cides of 21 male and two fe­male OPP of­fi­cers and re­tired of­fi­cers who had killed them­selves be­tween Jan­uary of 1989 and May of 2012.

While po­lice of­fi­cers do rou­tinely see death, tragedy and cru­elty and may suf­fer op­er­a­tional stress in­juries, de­pres­sion re­mains the men­tal ill­ness most closely linked to sui­cide.

For all of these ill­nesses — PTSD, de­pres­sion, op­er­a­tional stress in­juries — there is ef­fec­tive treat­ment. The key is to ask for help, and to re­ceive it quickly.

As one of the replies to Hawkes’ poignant tweets this week had as a hash­tag, #Sic­kNotWeak.

OPP Sgt. Syl­vain Routhier and his wife Sarah.

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