When tragedy strikes a community, police are on the frontline responding to and investigating the incident.
The stress of the work can accumulate on officers involved in investigations like Operation H-Strong, following the unprecedented incident last April in Nova Scotia with nearly two dozen victims, including 22-year RCMP veteran Cst. Heidi Stevenson.
Nova Scotia RCMP has multiple programs in place to ensure police officers and other RCMP employees are supported throughout investigations like this.
"Immediately following the incident, the peer-to-peer program set up a 24-hour support line so employees could reach out to our team at any time," says Supt. Robert Doyle, Administration and Personnel Officer with the Nova Scotia RCMP, who oversees a variety of programs, including employee wellness.
Peer-to-peer personnel also visited detachments and crime scenes to provide a listening ear and support. Peer-to-peer co-ordinators have training on the services offered by the RCMP and help link employees to those services. Co-ordinators from other divisions also helped to make calls and check in on those impacted.
"They were making calls from Newfoundland to B.C.," says Cpl. Deepak Prasad, a wellness co-ordinator with the Nova Scotia RCMP. "This support allowed us to quickly connect with all employees directly involved in H-Strong so that they could be connected with a clinician immediately if desired."
A space to talk
Following the incident, a number of critical incident stress debriefs were arranged to give employees a safe space to talk about their experience and learn about RCMP support services.
"While it's not therapy, it's an opportunity for people who were involved in the incident to get together and talk about what they saw, heard or felt," says Prasad, who's team organized and co-ordinated the debriefs.
The debriefs were led by a psychologist and covered topics such as symptoms of occupational stress injuries and where to get support.
"We worked with Health Canada's Employee Assistance Services, the Nova Scotia RCMP psychologist and a number of local community service providers to build a small, strong army of clinicians and psychologists to host debriefings across the province," says Prasad.
The COVID-19 pandemic added some challenges to providing support but arrangements were made so debriefs could move forward. Often, this included booking larger spaces to allow for physical distancing.
Assisting employees' families
Following a critical incident, supporting the families of employees is essential.
"Quite often families can feel the stress at home and they often wonder about the safety of their loved one," says Doyle. "With that in mind, we organized online sessions with qualified health care practitioners to provide some assistance for families."
The video meetings covered topics such as dealing with grief and the effects of the incidents, and demonstrated LifeSpeak, an online tool providing videos on a number of health and wellness topics.
The hope is that the various supports offered help make coping with tragedy and grief more manageable.
For the police officers and other employees working on Operation H-Strong, knowing support is available can make a difference.
"Even if someone doesn't reach out, there's comfort in knowing that these supports are in place," says Doyle. "Many of the programs weren't available when I started in the organization over 30 years ago."
The RCMP offers a variety of mental health and support services for all employees. The Peer-to-Peer program, Support for Occupational Stress Injury program, and Employee Assistance Program provide support and help connect employees to other resources such as psychologists.
Employees can access these through the RCMP's internal website.