A high-profile Mountie is walking away from the RCMP after what she calls “unforgivable” neglect from the institution.
Staff Sgt. Jennifer Pound was the face of Integrated Homicide Investigation Team for years, a role that eventually left her suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After years of struggle, she has decided to retire early, saying she could no longer in good conscience, represent the organization.
Deep roots in the RCMP
Pound says she knew she wanted to be a police officer when she was 15, following in her father’s footsteps.
“He really did enjoy his work and came home and raved about how much he loved working every day,” she told CTV News Vancouver. “So, I kind of wanted to mimic that and have a career that you know, felt a part of a family to and really enjoy the camaraderie and a sense of purpose.”
Her brother, husband and many other family members also became members.
At 23, Pound began her career in the University detachment, before heading to North Vancouver.
“I went on to a legal gaming section, the missing women unit and then the Richmond detachment is where I really started to get into the media component of policing,” said Pound.
A slow burn
After years of commitment, Pound was brought onto the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team where she was promoted twice, eventually becoming a staff sergeant.
“People that want to go there want to see justice and they want to see people held accountable for the most horrific crime that you can encounter,” she explained.
As the unit’s spokesperson she worked closely with the families of victims, shouldering the burden of some of the province’s most brutal murders in a very public way.
She believes those interactions triggered the initial symptoms of PTSD.
“On camera, I can be stoic, and I can be whoever I need to be to get that message across. But at the end of the day, I’m walking in my own door to go home. And my family’s not getting the best of me.”
She began experiencing what she described as flu-like symptoms that she couldn’t seem to shake.
“Thankfully, it manifested itself physically or I don’t really know when I would have stopped to take a break and get myself well,” she said.
She was forced to seek medical attention and was put on a two-week medical leave.
“It was just slipping more into an abyss of illness and not being able to get out of bed and hitting just a really, really deep, dark depression within those two weeks,” she told CTV News.
Pound was diagnosed with PTSD by her family doctor and was put on another three-month leave.
“The crucial time for in my opinion for the RCMP to get involved with individuals that are off work are from the very, very initial stages,” she said. “You can’t have your people off work sick and not be checking in on them and not at least be acknowledging that you play a role in their recovery.”
She says her direct supervisors were supportive, but RCMP health services was not.
“The very first call that I received from the RCMP was from the graduated return to work people to say, ‘When are you going to get back to work?’ Which is really, really damaging when an individual is trying to figure out what’s wrong with them,” Pound said.
She says that call only exasperated the guilt and shame she was already feeling.
On top of that, she was faced with a six-month waitlist to see a psychologist.
“There’s a real pressure to get members back on the road. And that pressure can be dangerous when you’re dealing with first responders and policing you don’t want sick members on the road.”
It ended up taking her more than a year to see a psychologist that had experience working with first responders.
“What I needed is some from somebody health services to go, ‘Here’s the process. Here’s what you can expect,’ and offer up some psychologists, some doctors, something tangible and helpful for me to move forward in my healing process,” she explained.
RCMP health services
National Headquarters says RCMP health services operates through three programs:
- Occupational health: which assesses an officer’s fitness to perform law enforcement duties.
- Disability management and accommodation: which recommends limitations or restrictions to ill or injured members.
- Health benefits: which determines whether illness or injuries are work-related.
“When you describe yourself as a health services unit, there’s an expectation from the members that they’re going to help you get healthy,” Pound said.
The RCMP says its members are covered for basic health care under provincial/territorial health care plans.
“The health and safety of our members is a top priority for the RCMP and is essential to public safety,” said the RCMP in a statement to CTV News.
“Although, we can’t comment on specific cases, we take work-related stress and mental health issues very seriously and are committed to enhancing the health, safety and resiliency of all our employees. Our work on mental health will never be done.”
Pound says the institution needs to play a bigger role in securing mental health support in a timely manner.
“Health services within the RCMP are ineffective,” she said.
“They failed me right out of the gate.”
‘Stay on the Line’
Pound has been blogging about her struggles with PTSD through a blog called “Stay on the Line,” referencing what 911 dispatchers often tell people in crisis before help is on the way.
She says she’s been inundated with responses from other first responders who have faced similar challenges accessing care.
Going forward she hopes to use the platform to let people with PTSD know they are not alone.
She says the decision to take an early retirement wasn’t an easy one, as she still had many things she wanted to accomplish in policing.
“I knew I couldn’t go back and feel good about myself and feel good about myself for working for an organization that I knew had forgotten me as soon as I stepped out the door.”
This is part one of a three-part series. Check back for more this week.