When You Can’t “Tough it Out” Anymore

It wasn’t the first time that RCMP Constable Peter Neily had shared his story when he spoke with us, and it will unlikely be the last. His story has become a beacon of hope to those struggling with occupational stress injuries and the stigma surrounding mental health.

Constable Neily doesn’t talk about the incident that led to his own occupational stress injury, just his response to it. In March, 2011, in Surrey, B.C., another officer pulled over a car for blacked-out taillights. The officer noticed a rifle on the back seat. The car fled, and he called for backup. Constable Neily responded. After the car was slowed down by a spike strip, Constable Neily rammed the car to deter the suspect from fleeing, and ended up with his passenger side window lined up with the driver’s side window. He found himself staring down the barrel of a rifle pointed at him by a swearing hostile. He shot first and the suspect was killed. Constable Neily was exonerated by a subsequent inquiry, but the incident stayed with him.

Normally a gregarious networker, Neily noticed at a conference some six months later that he retreated to his room during breaks. He slid into alcohol abuse, spiralling downhill quickly. He feared the stigma associated with asking for help, and was convinced no one cared about him. It wasn’t until the next summer that Constable Neily finally sought assistance.

Why is it so hard to pick up the phone to call for help? Is it the fear of losing one’s job, the stigma of not being strong enough to cope?

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Pail Crookall
Paul Crookall, MBA, PhD, is a researcher, writer and consultant on management. He was previously a hospital CEO and an executive with the Correctional Service of Canada.