'I want it to be easy,' partner of OPP officer who took his own life says of new mental health supports
Published Friday, March 29, 2019 10:53AM EDT Last Updated Friday, March 29, 2019 7:16PM EDT
The partner of an Ontario Provincial Police constable who took his own life last week says that the government’s announcement of new mental health supports for officers is “a step in the right direction.”
“I want it to be easy for people to get help,” Tina Vandenburg told CTV News. “I don’t want this to happen to another family.”
At a news conference held on Friday, Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones said that the province will fully fund a new mental health program for OPP officers. The program will be delivered and operated by the police association.
This announcement comes a week after Ottawa-area OPP Const. Roch Durivage took his own life. Members learned of his passing in a letter sent by the President of the Ontario Provincial Police Association (OPPA), who said that the job “claimed another hero.”
In the letter, the president promised that help was on the way.
“The status quo simply cannot continue,” OPPA President Rob Jamieson said at the news conference. “Our heroes will finally have the easy access to a total circle of care solution that provides mental health care on both a proactive and reactive basis.”
Durivage’s partner, an OPP dispatcher of 27 years, said that she remembers feeling relieved when the OPP and the chief coroner announced internal reviews into mental health strategies within the force last year.
“I said to him, ‘there’s going to be help for you. Something’s coming,’ Vandenburg said. “He didn’t believe me because … nobody has helped him before. When a person has been dealt with so much negativity, how can you turn him around?”
Vandenburg described her partner as a wonderful man who struggled daily.
“He was a good person. He was loving, caring, kind, compassionate. He wore his heart on his sleeve,” Vandenburg said. “I can’t believe that he’s gone.”
Vandenburg said that while Durivage tried to seek help for his mental wellbeing, “doors were always closed on him.” In one instance, she said he had asked for permission to use one of the force’s gyms, as he couldn’t bring himself to go to a public facility.
“He was refused. That upset both of us,” she said. “He was happy when he was working out and that was a door that was shut.”
Durivage is the 13th OPP officer to die by suicide since 2012 and officials say that over a 30-year career, it’s estimated that a frontline police officer is exposed to over 900 traumatic events.
“You carry these experiences with you and if left untreated, that can lead to tragic results,” Jones said at the news conference. “We need to do better. Police officers face a unique type of stress. The current system provides cookie cutter support, ignores the realities of being a front-line officer and we're fixing that."
Not many details have been released about the new mental health supports that will be provided to officers, but Jamieson said that the program will take an “integrated, one-stop approach.”
Through the program, Jamieson said that officers will have personalized support, including access to employee and family assistance, crisis intervention specialists, and mental health facilities.
Officers will be able to expect a “confidential experience with continuous support and guidance,” Jamieson said.
"Through this new program we will foster an environment where our members can freely come forward and get the help that they truly need -- an environment where the stigma that keeps our members from coming forward is eliminated and where a circle of trust is established to start the healing process."
Neither the cost of the program nor a timeline for the launch of the services was provided.
The OPP says it has internal resources available through the OPP intranet and on the OPPA website. There is also an external helpline available through the Employee and Family Assistance Program at 1-800-387-4765 or at workhealthlife.com. The phone number for the OPP Wellness Unit is 705-329-6704 and a 24-hour peer-support line is available at 1-844-880-9142.
Anyone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts should reach out to one of Ontario’s distress centres or call 911. The phone number for the Toronto Distress Centre is 416-408-4357.
With files from CTV News Toronto’s Tracy Tong