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Published December 1, 2023

Breaking the Silence: A police officer's Mental Health Crusade

Everyone is fighting a battle that nobody knows about
Breaking the Silence: A police officer's Mental Health Crusade

Nottawasaga OPP Constable Katy Viccary has taken on a mission that transcends the boundaries of law enforcement.

For the past five years, she has dedicated herself to public awareness campaigns, from tackling opioid crises to her current focus on mental health.

And it's personal, having lost her father, two great uncles, and a cousin to suicide. "I have a unique perspective. I think that compassion and kindness and empathy can go a long way. Everyone is fighting a battle that nobody knows about, and if we can just try to break down barriers and talk about things, we can reduce stigma and just help people that want to get better."

The mental health awareness campaign launched this week by Viccary seeks to illuminate the often-shadowed paths of those grappling with mental health issues. Its primary goal is to convey the message that support and resources exist for individuals facing these challenges, as well as for the caregivers and loved ones assisting them. In addition, it addresses the interaction between law enforcement and those experiencing mental health crises.

Viccary's brother, Constable Brett Garner, has a vested interest in this as well. He is the newest Crisis and Outreach Support Team officer with the South Simcoe Police Service.

"I think the climate is changing. I think that within the policing culture, we are having these conversations, and we just want people in the community to be aware of the resources that are available to them."

Since 2017, Nottawasaga OPP and York Support Services Network (YSSN) have been working together to provide local residents with support when they are experiencing a mental health and/or addiction crisis. Known as the Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT), comprised of an OPP officer and a YSSN crisis response worker, the team responds to calls for persons in crisis within the Nottawasaga detachment area. They provide on-scene assessment, support, and referrals to community services as required.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution. Some individuals prefer seeking assistance within their community, while others opt for anonymity, seeking help outside their immediate surroundings. Viccary's campaign takes a dual approach, providing a local perspective for the detachment area while also offering a broader list of resources encompassing Simcoe County and the Toronto area.

And there's a new tool—the launch this week of a 988 helpline, a free resource for individuals experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental health challenges. Accessible through calls, texts, or chats, the 988 line represents a crucial lifeline during critical moments.

In addition, those experiencing a crisis can connect with a crisis worker by calling YSSN's 24/7 Community Crisis Response Service at 1-855-310-COPE (2673). Text or live chat via cope.yssn.ca is available from 7:00 a.m. to midnight. YSSN also offers face-to-face mobile support visits and short-term crisis beds. YSSN also has an intake team, Streamlined Access, for anyone seeking to be connected with mental health case management, housing, or addiction support in York Region and South Simcoe.

banner image of Const. Viccary and Const. Garner - supplied

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