On Road to Erasing Mental Health Stigma

By Kevin Masterman, Toronto Police Service Published: 7 a.m. November 10, 2021

The first Toronto police officer to use a Service animal at work is once again trying to break down stigma surrounding post-traumatic stress by appearing in a campaign supporting the non-profit organization that trained his dog.

A group of people and service dog with a car
Donna Boileau, Constable Paul Breeze and Chief James Ramer with the new Citadel Canine Society vehilce

Constable Paul Breeze is appearing in an awareness campaign alongside his service dog Scarlett, to raise awareness of the Citadel Canine Society, who provide support animals and training to military veterans, first responders and nurses in need of service dogs.

“Our mission is to get them to a better place in their lives, where they were before. So many people with PTS don’t want to leave the house, don’t want to be emotionally engaged with other people. Because they are so invested with that dog and it’s part of their family, they want to get out,” said Donna Boileau, a Citadel trainer and coordinator, who sits on the Board of Directors for the charitable organization.

Citadel pairs and trains dogs to work with those suffering from post traumatic stress and operational stress injuries to encourage independence.

“There is no cure for post traumatic stress but you’re trying to get them to the point where you can alter their lives and help them manage symptoms more. Many come off medications. It calms them down,” she said. “They get to participate in more activities with their spouse, their kids, their family.”

Chief James Ramer says that having a TPS member part of the campaign to support Citadel is a great way to start conversations about mental health.

“We want to have these conversations surrounding mental health,” said the Chief. “We have gotten more mature as an organization as well as a society surrounding PTSD and mental health and this is another recognition of that journey.”

It’s a very public step. I know I have a service dog, bit of a walking billboard, now I’m a driving billboard. We made the decision to go all in and push against the stigma

Constable Breeze, who was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – the result of a build-up of critical incidents he has seen over his military and police career, credits Scarlett with helping him get back to work. And Citadel for that training.

For Breeze, and his wife, Tara, it is another step in their journey.

“It’s a very public step. I know I have a service dog, bit of a walking billboard, now I’m a driving billboard. We made the decision to go all in and push against the stigma,” he says, of their family decision to meet his diagnosis of complex PTSD head on. “We want to say that you can get through, there are people to talk to and I managed to get back to work.”

His service dog has his medications in her vest and a guide for others in case he were to have a debilitating anxiety attack.

But her main task is as a grounding force for Breeze to help distract him from other life stressors.

“She can provide a block for me, put a barrier between me and another person if they are coming very close to me, which can make me feel uncomfortable. She also gives me a focus, another job to do. If something is overwhelming for me on work side of things I can switch focus back to her and then back to work.”

Scarlett knows to check in with Breeze when he begins fidgeting or pacing, giving him a queue to refocus on the task at hand.

Tara says the awareness campaign was an outlet to help out.

“Paul got into policing because he is a helper, same with me, I’m a teacher. It’s natural for us to help others to get the support they need. Paul has gotten the support he needs to return to work and we’d like to support others and get to the support they need and be another example for a way that you can recover or live with an operational service injury,” she says. “It’s normal for the kids because we talk about openly. It’s like someone needing glasses or a hearing aid.”

Breeze has talked to other officers about the benefits of a service dog and if it would be a good fit for them.

Toronto Police Association Director of Member Benefits Pete Grande said the awareness campaign is part of an ongoing evolution about mental health – a topic that he gets questions about how to access support on a weekly basis.

“This is an action to help erase stigma. We have a long way to go but we’re getting there as an organization, both Toronto Police Service and Toronto Police Association, and as humans. Mental health is something people deal with everyday, I don’t care who you are,” said Grande. “We need to get to the point where it’s: You’re injured, how do we help you?”

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