Updated: Jan 24
I served fourteen years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. What I also became in time was a Police Officer with severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety issues and every known PTSD symptom in our psychological community. I also developed an addiction issue and attended rehab in 2019.
I was a police officer in a small community. Served in a Provincial plain clothes drug unit in Vancouver, BC. I eventually moved into a Federal Serious Organized Crime position where I continued to hone my skills as a Police Officer all while at the same time my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms continued to grow despite my best efforts to minimize the impact they had on me both at work and home. The impacts in my professional life and personal life were both very real. Denial only worked for so long.
If we are going to have a conversation about Mental Health lets first look at the statistics behind this topic. After all, we are a logical bunch. Most of us have forgotten what emotion is aside from anger and tend to be driven by logic, often absent of emotion, due to the nature of the job. That is ok, but learning to functionally reconnect is incredibly important if you intend to lead a long and healthy career.
Roughly one in two police officers will go on to have one or more mental-health disorders during their career. Let that sink in, 50 %. Not fifteen, five zero. Fifty. One in every two police officers. The rate of civilians experiencing mental-health disorders comes in at about 10 %. Quite the contrasting picture, right?
I used to be shocked by these statistics until I became one of those 50 %. I used to disbelieve the stats thinking that it must be inaccurate. This would never happen to me. I learned the hard way, with my own personal experience.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive episodes that lasted much longer than six months. And that is plural too, it happened more than once. I also had daily panic attacks, even while I was at home in a safe and sometimes stimulus free environment.
The interesting thing about First Responder Mental Health is a lot of us really do not start talking about it until it is too late. Until we are in the thick of in. Full blown crisis mode. Maybe we are facing addiction issues. Maybe we are headed for divorce. Maybe we’ve considered suicide, in an effort to end the unimaginable amount of pain we can endure. Maybe we’ve ruined our relationship with our spouse and children because of the intense anger that is ever present. Or we simply cannot be connected at home on days off because we’ve forgotten how to be truly empathic or sympathetic to a loved one who simply leading their own life. Compassion fatigue is also incredibly common for us as well. You’ve most likely started to socially isolate as we slide into the us Vs them role of Policing.
After all we are sheep dogs. To serve and protect. We care for the sheep and we stop the wolf at the door. Sometimes we even have to serve the wolf too. Most of our sacrifices go unnoticed. Unappreciated. Long shifts, fast food, caffeine, tobacco, trauma and the endless reports and time in court.
Nathan Kapler is a retired RCMP Officer with over fourteen years of Policing experience. He is a First Responder Mental Health advocate and has aimed his sights on promoting mental well being within all first responder working lines. He runs a successful podcast, Ten Thirty Three - Trauma Talk which has already positively impacted many on the journey of their own mental health!