VPD Constable Michele McKnight and her colleagues in the VPD Employee Wellness unit provide comprehensive support to all VPD staff through a peer support program, critical incident and stress management team and athletic therapy team. It is a total body and mind wellness approach – with a heavy focus on mental health.
Michele has been a police officer for more than 23 years, and in a profession with a high rate of traumatic encounters, mental wellness has always been a priority for her – she began regularly seeing a psychologist at the outset of her career.
Today, Michele is a champion for mental wellness, both personally and professionally. Michele became an advocate for mental wellness when she was trained as a VPD Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team volunteer in 2014, and, after suffering from both professional and personal trauma, including a near-death experience, she has an enhanced understanding of mental health.
Part of her own personal recovery plan was to play a larger role in helping others look after their mental health. She was fortunate to secure her current role in the VPD Employee Wellness Unit where she is a positive role model having lived experience and a strong history in seeking support for her own mental wellness. Michele works both one-on-one and in group settings to support the mental wellness of her VPD colleagues. She also has the unique responsibility of being handler to Accredited Facility Dog (AFD) Zen, a three-year-old Black Lab/Golden Retriever cross specially trained by PADS to support VPD staff mental health.
“This position was meant for me,” explains Michele. “Many incredible opportunities have arisen in the role, not only with sharing AFD Zen with others, but also with being able to share my own experiences to help break down the stigma behind traumatic events.”
“I have an opportunity to amplify wellness just by being able to tell my own stories and my own understanding and experiences. When you share, you immediately find out that others can often relate.”
This week, May 2-8, 2022, is Mental Health Week and the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has named EMPATHY as the theme of the week across Canada. According the CMHA’s website, empathy is the ability to share in someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in their situation. It’s about trying to see the world as someone else see it and it’s one of the most important that needs to happen to lend important support to someone who is struggling. Michele agrees.
“To me, empathy is listening to someone, as if I was standing there right beside them, as it happened. Not taking on concerns but understanding the impact of the event(s) and helping people navigate their emotions, thoughts and actions as they move forward.”
Michele also recognizes that it’s not always easy to reach out for help when you are struggling, but the number one thing she wants everyone to keep in mind is that someone else is going through something very similar and help is available.
“Sometimes the hardest thing to do is ask for help. The biggest thing to remember is that you are not alone in whatever you’re experiencing. You are demonstrating strength and courage when you reach out for support and look after yourself – which also means you are looking out for those you love as well.”
For mental health support and resources, please visit: mentalhealthweek.ca and/or cmha.ca