London police officer honoured for mental health advocacy: ‘Worth it’

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A London police officer was honoured with an industry award for his work raising awareness about mental health issues in law enforcement and the military.

Sgt. Andrew Gough received the Police Services hero of the year award Thursday at the Police Association of Ontario annual convention in Windsor. He was among six individuals or groups recognized at the awards, now in their ninth year, for police officers and civilian police employees.

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“His openness about his mental health journey, stemming from an operational stress injury during his service, has fostered dialogue among his colleagues,” reads a statement issued Friday by the Police Association of Ontario, an organization representing more than 28,000 officers and civilians from 45 police forces provincewide.

Gough, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2015, is the founder of Veterans and Everyday Heroes, a non-profit that helps individuals affected by operational stress injuries get service dogs.

Gough got his service dog, Riggs, a white German shepherd that accompanies him to work, in 2018 to help him cope with his PTSD, acquired from his career in policing that started at age 19 as a cadet in London.

In a 2019 interview with The Free Press, Gough said there was no single incident that caused his PTSD, but several that stand out.

One was  in 2014 when Gough was serving as a bodyguard for diplomats in Tripoli, Libya, during the country’s civil war following the fall of the North African country’s longtime dictator, Muammar Gaddafi. Gough was driving a diplomat when he said a gunman opened fire on his car, causing him to crash into some barriers. He was injured but escaped with his life.

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“A few weeks after I got home, that’s when things started breaking down for me,” Gough said in the interview. “It showed with impatience, frustration, anger, distrust, isolation, drinking. I think I hit most of them.”

Gough returned to work but his home life was suffering. He sought help from the military, through the operational stress injury clinic at Parkwood Institute in London, and through the trauma support program in Perth, in eastern Ontario. He also attended a peer support group for first responders in London.

“I made the decision I was going to get better, whatever I needed to do,” Gough said.

Gough’s latest recognition for his mental health advocacy comes the same week he was medically released from the Canadian Armed Forces after serving nearly 25 years.

“It’s always been worth it, and I’m grateful for every moment and every person I’ve met along the way,” he wrote in a post on social media on Friday. “I’ve done my duty . . . it’s time to go home.”

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