KAWARTHA LAKES – Jason Coulthard was a Toronto homicide detective, flourishing in his career as a front-line police officer, eventually making his way onto the Organized Crime Enforcement Unit and the drug squad. He solved international cases involving the importing and exporting of heroin, ephedrine and cocaine.
He never imagined the trauma he endured as a ten-year-old boy would follow him into his career and eventually, nearly cost him his life.
Coulthard is a post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, survivor that is choosing to use his suffering, healing and his experience, to help others.
“I’ve recognized through my journey, the cause and effect of my injuries and why they happened to me, it’s been a very, very deep journey that’s taken a lot of emotion for me to get through, I have cried more in last three years than I have my entire life,” said Coulthard. “It’s been necessary, I’ve needed to feel to heal, and when I recognize that I had a problem, around 2014, I reached out to our available system.”
He says the system and the police force neglected his needs and showed a consistent lack of empathy and support, and after a long journey of healing, Coulthard decided to launch New Hope Field of Dreams – Family Revival Retreat, 2435 Elm Tree Road in Cambray. It’s Canadas first self-sustained multi-functional family revival retreat, on 133 acres.
According to Coulthard, the retreat will offer a safe, fully accessible, self-sustained, natural environment for local heroes and their families to heal from their immediate and historical operational stress injuries, naturally.
“I want to create a family-oriented, self-sustained community to address underlying issues that are causing 80 per cent of our mental and physical injuries,” he said. “Bringing together a multitude of natural, renewable recourses into one central location to work together to provide education, and resources to promote healing and prevention of operational stress injuries.”
Coulthard and his team will be working collaboratively with local front-line services, creating individual and family programs suited to specific professions.
New Hope Field Of Dreams will combine new and currently available resources, backed by properly trained, fully comprehensive and communitive teams, who will work hand-in-hand with the injured and their family, providing the proper resources to heal their specific operational stress injuries and prevent them from returning.
The team hopes to raise sufficient funds to begin to offer an equine therapy program by summer 2021. According to Coulthard, they are hopeful that construction will commence for the additional phases in spring 2022.
The new retreat that will sprawl over scenic, country acreage will offer a variety of healing outlets including equine therapy, canine therapy, art therapy, clay sculpting, scrapbooking, dancing, a nutrition centre, greenhouses, an art therapy mobility centre and more.
“We have to address all three areas, the body, soul and spirit,” said Coulthard. “Our goal is to live naturally, spread “agape” (unconditional)love and educate others how, through this natural lifestyle and true love, we can empower one another for a common purpose: to heal our body, soul and spirit and to take that love and knowledge to heal others, with the following in our hearts.”
Coulthard had an intense career and worked collaboratively with services around the world, heavily involved in a multitude of investigations. Crimes such as money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, forcible confinement, murder, mass murder, mutilations, human trafficking, weapons trafficking, nuclear weapons trafficking, human trafficking were part of Coulthard’s everyday life. It took a toll.
According to Connie Connie Osborne, Manager, Media Relations, Corporate Communications for the Toronto Police Service, they offer many interventions including peer crisis support in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic incident such as a child’s death or a mass casualty event.
“Service members also have access to in-house psychologists, chaplains, peer support volunteers, an allowance for mental health care without the need for a doctor’s note, immediate external community virtual and phone assistance, offered through our benefits plan and partnership with Toronto Beyond the Blue, a grassroots initiative that offers peer and family support,” she said. “The Service appreciates the importance of the mental well being of our members who must intervene in many traumatic incidents in the course of their duties.”
This year, a mindfulness program was introduced to encourage members to seek support, practice healthy habits and positive coping strategies and increase psychological health, she added.
But until Coulthard’s mother passed away in 2014, his symptoms of PTSD stayed hidden under the surface but lurked in the back of his mind.
“That was the breaking point of my PTSD, however, now that I’ve repaired from it, I know my injury came from a childhood trauma that wasn’t resolved,” he said. “In 2001, I was exposed to a similar occurrence as my childhood trauma, essentially this is when my PTSD started.”
At a young age, Coulthard’s life took an unexpected turn, affecting him for years to come and ultimately was the deep-seated root that lead to his PTSD.
“I was sexually assaulted when I was ten years old and I didn’t have the right support system around me to manage it,” he said. “I grew up with a lot of confusion, I wanted to be a cop as I didn’t want that to happen to someone else.”
As the symptoms worsened, addiction to alcohol, and other devices began to destroy every aspect of Coulthard’s life. For the past three and a half years, the former front-line Toronto Police officer has been on sick leave and he believes it is unlikely that he will ever return to the force.
“In the current state, I do not trust that the police service would take care of me if I became injured physically or mentally, because they haven’t been helpful over the past three years of my recovery,” he said. “The police department was not for a moment supportive, when I brought it to their attention, they obtained my information, figured out what happened, they did nothing. It’s a common theme, they have neglected to support me, through this entire journey they have been absent from my recovery.”
According to Coulthard, he has approached the Toronto Police Association in hopes of a change but when he continued to feel let down, Coulthard decided to shift gears and take matters into his own hands with New Hope Field of Dreams.
“My end goal, when a member of the front-line service workers becomes injured as a result of an operational stress injury, they will meet with a trauma trained psychologist and a team of peer-to-peer support workers, who will take them away to a safe, off-site environment, provided with options to begin a healing journey with their family alongside them.”
While Coulthard believes he is fully healed from PTSD, his journey to get there was torturous. Years passed by full of various therapeutic appointments. Psychologists, psychotherapists and other trained medical professionals examined Coulthard and he was continually prescribed over 17 different pharmaceutical medications that enhanced his suicidal thoughts, depression and nightmares.
“They’re clinicians, they have a process, a time limit, procedures, all these indoctrinations in front of their ability to actually care,” he said. “That’s been my biggest struggle is finding someone who gives a shit and knows how to help.”
Eventually out of desperation, Coulthard made his way to Georgia to partake in a healing retreat. According to Coulthard, the program enables participants to heal their entire spirit, soul and body. Sceptical, he would have never guessed the outcome.
“If I didn’t have an understanding of how God operates, I’d go out of my mind. Without his understanding, I definitely would be in a different place for sure, it’s not about religion, but the truth, love and helping one another with that love,” he said. “I had a massive spiritual experience, I was reborn, I was transformed into understanding who I truly am and why I’m here and that’s to be love and to communicate that love to heal others.”
Shortly after having this life-changing experience, Coulthard was excited to share his news with his doctor, medication-free for the first time in years. But life took another unexpected turn.
According to Coulthard, on December 22, 2017, he had a disagreement with his psychiatrist about the need for medication and he was locked up at Lake Ridge Health for three weeks.
“Alarm bells went off, my wife exited the room, security guards came in, took physical control of me, and I said hey what do you want me to do, you don’t have to hurt me, they took my badge, “he said.
Eventually, he was released after agreeing to take the recommended medications but the experience he says was devastating and harrowing.
“Part of my repair was to write a traumatic timeline from birth, on that original timeline, I had 57 occurrences that I came up with, including my policing career. When I came out of that hospital, I went through the same process, I came up with 78 incidents, from 21 days in hospital, being in hospital injured me more than 21 years as a police officer, it’s hard to believe but true and the ripple effect from that stay is terrible.”
According to Dr. Vivien Lee, Chief Psychologist, Commander, Healthy Workplace Team for the Ontario Provincial Police, OPP, exposure to traumatic incidents is inherent in policing, and it is normal to have traumatic stress symptoms in the aftermath of a trauma such as nightmares and sleep problems for a few days or weeks after an event.
“That does not mean one has PTSD. Those are normal reactions that individuals may have after experiencing trauma that help us work through what happened,” she said. “It’s when particular symptoms continue for longer than a month that traumatic stress reactions may be diagnosed as PTSD.”
And while Coulthard felt left behind and neglected by the Toronto Police department, Lee noted that the OPP established a new bureau, Healthy Workplace Team, HWT, in late 2019. The goal is to have at least one psychologist in each OPP region in addition to mental health clinicians, she said.
“An important new role is that of care navigators for each region. They can help direct OPP members, uniform and civilian, family members, and retirees to appropriate supports for their needs, which may involve connecting the member with a peer supporter or psychologist, help completing forms, and referring to community providers,” said Lee. “We have an increasing number of peer supporters throughout the organization in all regions to help support peers on a regular basis. Finally, we have non-denominational chaplains who understand policing work and culture who can connect with members.”
With HWT in place, Lee noted that the OPP strives to reach out to a member who has been off for at least five days for any reason. Their Care Navigators can also help steer the member towards helpful resources and fill out paperwork that might be needed such as workers compensation forms, she said.
According to Lee, peer supporters may also reach out and the member can ask to speak with one of the OPP psychologists. The HWT may remain involved if desired and help members prepare to return to work. The OPP also now has an Occupational Medicine physician with expertise in police services to also provide guidance with a member’s return to work process.
“In my clinical experience, probably the number one thing I’ve seen that has contributed to the development of PTSD is avoidance. It’s understandable that people want to avoid thinking about a trauma, which may be one of the worst experiences of their life,” Lee said. However, when thoughts and emotions keep coming back to you, that is a sign that there is something you need to deal with.”
Lee noted that the first step to recovery can often be the hardest, especially for those who may have reached out for help and felt let down, like Coulthard.
“Things are changing, slowly but they are changing,” she said.
For those in need of help, Lee recommended Boots on the Ground, providing 24/7 peer support by telephone for first responders across the province and they can also provide clinician recommendations.
She also noted that there are increasing Beyond the Blue chapters across Ontario that support police members and their families. These organizations are charities that are independent of any other organization.
“You may have been burned in the past and I’m sorry for that,” she said. “But I promise that there are people out there who want to have your back. Please reach out.”
According to Kirk Robertson, Inspector, Support Services for Kawartha Lakes Police Services, the Canadian Mental Health Association has stated that “police officers are disproportionately affected by mental illness” when compared to the general population. He also noted that symptoms can vary from very minor to very severe and they are not the same for every person.
And while some officers choose to come forward and seek assistance when they are suffering, others often choose to deal with things on their own, he added.
“KLPS staff are good at recognizing when an incident may cause someone some difficulties and will reach out to them just to see how they are. Staff are receptive to this and appreciate it,” said Robertson.
He also noted that most of the KLPS staff members have taken the Road to Mental Readiness training. This training helps staff build some resiliency and also works to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.
“We have a peer support team made up of staff from various departments. Those staff have received training to assist officers following a critical incident. They can offer some one on one support or engage a larger group if required,” he said. “Those staff will recognize a traumatic call and proactively reach out to those involved. The purpose of this is to just start a dialogue and let the staff member know that if they are struggling a little that there is someone to talk to if they need it. They can also assist with the member connect with professional services if they wish to.”
Should the need arise, Robertson said KLPS will hold a formal debriefing with the assistance of our Employee Assistance Program provider and have some professional services brought in to speak with staff to assist those who are struggling.
In a previous Collective Bargaining Agreement the need for professional counselling was recognized and added as a benefit for KLPS members, he said. That benefit was increased in the most recent agreement in order to offer further supports to KLPS staff.
“There are many people and services to help them but people cannot help if they do not know you are struggling. An annual mental health checkup is a good practice to engage in, similar to your annual physical,” said Robertson. “The most important message is not to struggle in silence. Admitting you are struggling is very difficult, but once you overcome that resistance, you can start to deal with things proactively.”
According to Robertson, if the PTSD was a result of the officer’s employment, then the Service reports the injury to the WSIB. In Ontario, there is presumptive legislation that deems a diagnosis of PTSD in a police officer to be work-related unless shown otherwise. WSIB then assumes primary responsibility in arranging for treatment and, depending on specific circumstances, a return to work plan.
“The employer, the Association, the individual member and their care provider(s) all play an important role in this process, but the WSIB has carriage of the matter,” he said. “If the injury is not work-related, then the process is similar, but the member is covered by short term and long term disability allowances and benefits coverage as opposed to the WSIB.”
For those who may be suffering, Robertson encourages everyone to seek help and talk to somebody.
“There is no shame in asking for help. Please do not suffer alone and talk to someone,” he said. “It is okay to feel the way they do. We do not want our people to ever get sick. When it does happen we want to support them and assist them in their recovery the best that we can.”
If you are in crisis call 911 or Telehealth at 1-866-797-0000. For those who are in need of help, call Connex at 1-866-531-2600 or the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1-705-745-6484 or visit www.crisisservicescanada.ca.
For more information or to inquire about New Hope Field Of Dreams, email Coulthard at [email protected]