'You are not alone': OPP association says to members after 3 officers take their own lives
Published Wednesday, August 22, 2018 6:13PM EDT Last Updated Thursday, August 23, 2018 11:36AM EDT
The president of the Ontario Provincial Police Association is urging members to seek help to deal with trauma they experience on the job after learning that three officers in the force took their lives over a three-week time period.
In the letter, Rob Jamieson stresses that every officer is “valued as a human being.”
“With the events of the past three weeks, I wish to speak openly about member suicide, but a part of me doesn’t know exactly what to say,” Rob Jamieson said in his letter. “In my opinion, many of us, if not all first responders, suffer the strains of dealing with trauma. While I am not a doctor, I believe that there is no way to do this job without experiencing some degree of trauma and for that, we need to be real.”
“I have experienced extreme trauma as a result of doing my job as a police officer and four years ago I needed to step away. This has been a personal journey, and it is difficult to share this with thousands of people I do not know; however, I do so in the hope that it may give some strength to hang on, to speak to someone and to know you are not alone.”
Sgt. Sylvain Joseph Francois Routhier of Belleville was one of the officers who took his life. He passed away on July 31 and his obituary said he took his life “after a brief battle with mental illness.” Routhier’s widow said she wanted to be open and transparent about how her husband died
“He didn’t want to put the burden of things that he had to see at work every day on me or on our family, because he didn’t want to affect me,” Sarah Routhier told CTV News Toronto. “He held it in.”
Sarah said that she came home one day to find her husband missing. A suicide note was left behind, describing where he had gone. She immediately went to find him.
“I was hopeful that maybe he was sitting there having second thoughts or waiting for someone to come help him, but unfortunately it was too late.”
Routhier served with the OPP for 13 years, spending some time with the Tactics and Rescue Unit where he would deal with difficult, high-risk scenarios. His wife said that he sometimes talked about his calls, but would not reveal some of the more traumatic details.
Sarah said that her husband was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in April, after he came home from work and told her he was having suicidal thoughts. They went to the hospital and Routhier started to see a psychiatrist and take medication.
“Initially I thought he was having a stroke. He had a very hard time focusing and concentrating at work that day. He started telling me that he hadn’t been sleeping in about a week,” she said. “We often said he was in a fog.”
“When he was struggling, he was very quiet about it, he didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to tell people why he was off work. He was very worried about what people were going to think of him because he was a trained police officer to be strong, going to work every day, dealing with difficult calls and having to do it day after day after day.”
Routhier was a father of two boys, ages 10 and nine, and a five-year old girl. Sarah said he was an “incredible father” who coached all three of their children in hockey and built a massive ice rink in their backyard.
“He was never embarrassed about spending time with his kids. He was a very calm, outgoing person. He loved to joke around and laugh. It’s hard to think of that kind of person dealing with a mental illness, leading to a suicide. It’s hard to understand how we got there.”
The couple met when they were 18 and got married 14 years ago. While speaking with CTV News Toronto, Sarah wore a necklace with her husband’s police badge number, a gift from his coworkers at the OPP.
“I’m thinking of him all the time and he will always be with us.”
OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes said in a tweet about one of the other officers who took his own life: “Detective Inspector Paul Horne passed away unexpectedly on August 11th, after proudly serving 24 years with OPP. Continuing to work together to end the stigma in #mentalhealth.”’
The third officer, who has not been publically named, ended his own life just a couple of days ago.
In his letter to OPP officers, Jamieson said the issue surrounding the deaths of the three officers isn’t about blame, but rather about the stigma associated with mental illness for first responders.
“Over the past several years the OPP has come a long way from the days of 1995, and certainly before that date. Society has also come a long way. More and more organizations are being established to discuss mental health, stigma reduction, etc. The OPPA advocated strenuously for presumptive legislation as another way to support our people and reduce stigma but more can and must be done. “
OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes released a statement Wednesday saying the service is “devastated” by the loss of three of its members.
“The OPP is more than a police service, we are a family. With nearly 9,000 members, each and every one is equally important. Losing a member is one of the most difficult aspects of policing. A tremendous void has been left behind and it brings about many questions that may never be answered,” the statement reads. “As Commissioner of the OPP, I am committed to examining the barriers that exist preventing our members from seeking assistance and support. I appeal to our members, their family and friends that if you recognize a fellow member or should a member of your family require assistance, please contact one of our many support services.”
Sarah said that her heart goes out to the families and coworkers of the other officers who took their lives.
“The hardships of a family going through losing a loved one to suicide isn’t worth keeping it all inside and trying to deal with mental illness on their own.”
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.
Anyone suffering from mental illness or suicidal thoughts should reach out to one of Ontario’s crisis or distress centres. The phone number for the Toronto Distress Centre is 416-408-4357.
Those with suicidal thoughts are also urged to contact their family physician or call 911.
-With files from CTV News Toronto's Tracy Tong