June 27 marks Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness month. Below, Sergeant Major Stephen Archibald shares his own experience to lead and inspire others to know that help is available, and that PTSD can get better. We thank Stephen for allowing us to share this deeply personal experience and story, in his own words.  


The expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not always true. Our mental well-being is a product of many situations and series of events that we experience throughout our lives. These experiences may affect us in different ways at various stages of life. Something from many years ago that didn’t seem particularly remarkable at that time could come to the forefront of our thoughts. It’s important to address the negative thoughts and emotions that these experiences evoke before they become an overwhelming or invasive presence in our day-to-day. 

It seems obvious when a colleague needs time away from work for a physical ailment, because it’s usually noticeable and the recovery is, to a large degree, measurable and predictable. Such is not the case with a mental injury. We’re all aware of the various messages, initiatives and campaigns to raise awareness, but despite this, I believe there are members and employees across the RCMP that continue to struggle in silence. There is a negative stigma that still surrounds depression, anxiety and operational stress injuries which often include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

The expression “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not always true. Our mental well-being is a product of many situations and series of events that we experience throughout our lives. 

Stephen Archibald

Warning Signs: 

For me the signs were not obvious at first. Although I was experiencing many classic symptoms of depression, anxiety and PTSD – it was hard for me to recognize them for what they were. They would manifest in many other ways, and I noticed that my behaviours and daily routines were changing. The conversations I had with coworkers and friends seemed to always turn toward the negative – but that wasn’t who I am. I’m usually very positive. Small obstacles that I encountered in my day-to-day started to become insurmountable. The motivation to do the things that used to bring me joy seemed to no longer have that effect, and I lost interest. 

It seemed that I couldn’t sleep until I was physically exhausted, which was even more difficult because I had pretty much stopped exercising outright. I felt like I was keeping up with my duties at work, but it seemed like that was all I was doing in life. I started to realize that I was not keeping up with the other priorities, which included my family and personal health. I had slipped into a pattern of going to work, pouring everything I had into that and finally coming home with “no gas left in the tank.”  Something had to change… more on that later. 

My story: 

I am the eldest of three brothers who all followed our father’s footsteps by becoming members of the RCMP. If it was good enough for Dad to provide for us while growing up, then we thought it was a worthwhile career when we all joined in our early twenties. As the years passed, our dad retired, and my brothers and I had transfers and promotions. Life seemed good for the Archibald family. That is, until the circumstances that changed my life forever. 

I was a Corporal at Depot, working long hours instructing on an outdoor range with the carbine program. At that time, my youngest brother, Cst. Robert Archibald had been serving in the RCMP for six years. He had started his service doing front-line work in Nova Scotia and had recently transferred to Vancouver with the Air Carrier Protective Program. By all accounts he loved his job which including travelling all over the world and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle in his downtown highrise condo with a view of the city harbour. He was not at all the type of person that was “mopey” or “down.” Quite the opposite was true – he was overtly friendly to everyone he encountered. His favourite expression was “I’m living the dream” – but that was not reality. 

Robert was not doing well at all. As his immediate family members, we all knew this. He would confide in our mother and share some of his feelings with the rest of the family, but he had pretty much sworn us to secrecy when it came to letting his friends and coworkers know about the condition of his mental health. As his family, we would come to find out that most of his colleagues had no idea of the burden that he carried every day. He kept it hidden as he greeted everyone with that huge smile and characteristic expression while he radiated positive energy, but his mental wellbeing was not well at all – my brother was suffering from mental illness. At home one evening, at the end of another long, yet fairly routine day, I received a disturbing call from my mother. She was frantic and crying, and told me that my youngest brother had just taken his life by suicide. 

Fast forward two years. I buried myself in work to distract from the grief. I tried counselling but didn’t click with the first person I saw and, after two sessions, I quit going. I accepted a promotion to Nunavut, and my wife had just given birth to our first son. It seemed that despite the grief, which was still so prevalent, my life was moving forward and getting back on track. Then… in the middle of the night, in the middle of a snowstorm, in the middle of nowhere, I found myself responding to a call of active gunshots directed at police – resulting with me being the subject of a Member involved shooting (MIS). 

At first, things seemed okay after. I did what I was trained to do, I didn’t let anyone down, I did my job. Just take a moment to think about that statement and how, as a police officer, I had to rationalize the things that could happen to any of us at any time during our work. Well, just in case nobody has ever said this to you, let me be the first: these situations are not normal things that happen at work for most people!  

Of course, I proceeded to do what had become my usual mechanism when faced with adversity: I walked away from my problems up North and I accepted a transfer back to Depot. Shortly after arriving back there, I noticed things really started to change. I couldn’t fall asleep at night anymore. My eating habits were not healthy, and I had to do what every member staves off for as long as they can: I had to order all new, larger uniform items that actually fit my body, because all of my old uniforms had all seemed to shrink in the closet. In truth, I had gained about 15-20 pounds. 

This was the first time I seriously started trying to look after my mental health. I engaged with the RCMP’s Re-integration Coordinator and went through the program. I reached out to the Veteran Affairs Canada – Operational Stress Injury Clinic and began seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist on a regular basis. I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD and began taking several prescription medications for these conditions. I’m sure this seems ridiculous to anyone reading this now, but despite all of this, I still didn’t believe that I had a mental illness. 

For a police officer, the expression “you get out what you put in” applies equally for PROS data as it does to good mental health. My progress was quickly halted by COVID lockdowns which had affected the frequency in which I saw the professionals that were there to help me. This frustrated me and I stopped seeking their supports. 

More time passed. My wife gave birth to a second boy and then out of nowhere – my eldest son, only three years old – was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. There are many things that we encounter in life that challenge us mentally and emotionally and I think that most would agree that by this point I had faced my fair share; however, I can’t begin to describe how difficult this was for our family, especially during the first few months. 

Despite the chaos that was preoccupying my personal life, I still managed to keep it together at work and received another great career opportunity and became the Sergeant Major of F Division. I was a couple years into this role when everything from the past that I had seemed to bury deep started to come back up to the surface. You see, there’s no way to ignore those things forever. There will always be something that triggers the raw emotion inside that hasn’t been processed. I worked up until the day where I literally could not work one more. One of the hardest things that I’ve done in my entire life was walk into our CO’s office and tell her the truth – that I wasn’t well, and that it had been a long time since I was well, and that I needed to step away from work and I didn’t know when (or if) I would be able to come back. 

Before I tell you what her response was, I think it’s really important for us to recognize how we, as individuals each have a spheres of influence which affects the culture of the RCMP. While some people have greater influence, our culture is not solely a “front the top down” sort of endeavor. With that said, it’s important for you to understand why I had reluctance to speak up on my own behalf. You see, the current organizational support for mental wellbeing initiatives did not crop up overnight and it’s been an evolution and throughout my career. As the years passed, I learned to be compassionate and to help others in need, even though that wasn’t my experience from the beginning. Members have not always received overt support from supervisors when expressing these sorts of feelings, so my generation of Mountie often has a tough time recognizing and seeking support for ourselves. 

Anyhow, back to the how the CO responded: she told me that she understood, and that she supported me with whatever came next. She reassured me that my personal health was the number one priority. To know that the Commanding Officer had my back when I needed it most… well, that gesture spoke volumes to me about the direction we are going as an organization. If our senior ranking leaders in the RCMP understand and support the mental wellbeing of employees, then I know we must be headed in the right direction. 

Next the hard work began, because being ODS and trying to get back to work is very difficult. If you consider that it took a long time for my mental health to deteriorate, then it should come as no surprise that it doesn’t “fix” itself quickly. Successes weren’t measured in days or weeks, and for me, it took months. The time away from work did not seem at all like a vacation and initially there was a lot of guilt and despair. Guilt for being employed by not working, and despair that I didn’t know how to get back. At any rate, my new job was to get healthy so I had to get on with it. There were times that I had an appointment every day with a health professional, and there were all sorts. Eventually, they helped me see the path forward and provided me the tools which would help my mind to begin healing. Slowly, the situation improved and ultimately, there came a day when I decided I needed to incorporate work back into my life. I came back into the office on a gradual return to work. 

Where I am today: 

I’m not all better, but I’m doing much better. I think the best way to describe it is that I’m learning to cope. That means that I am trying to deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties. 

I remind myself that I am not ashamed of the situations and events that have shaped me into who I am today. Many of these things were beyond my control and such is the nature of life and, in particular, in police work. I am surrounded with people who love me and support me in my personal and professional life. I am going to continue to do my best to implement the skills I’ve learned and acknowledge that I won’t always be successful. I’m not going to be too hard on myself, knowing that I’m likely my own largest critic. There is nothing wrong with me. I am a human being with complex emotions and am constantly faced with challenges. I think we should all remind ourselves of these things from time to time, as well as to the people around us. 

Some people reading my story may see similarities to their own lives. It’s unfortunate that as we make this journey to positive mental health, we often don’t recognize that others are travelling that same path.  We feel alone and close ourselves to the colleagues, friends and family who all care about us. Looking towards the future, my greatest concern is that members or employees like my brother Robert will not take measures in time to seek the assistance that they need. It pains me that despite all of the initiatives that we bring forward, including the discussions surrounding mental health and promoting work-life balance, that stubborn people like me still exist. We should not wait for things to deteriorate into a crisis before we become willing to self-reflect and seek assistance. I trust that through my emotional vulnerability and by sharing life’s most difficult experiences – that it will be helpful to some of you. I hope this testimonial reaches all of our members and employees who are out there sinking into a dark place and unsure of what to do. Prioritize your own mental wellbeing and recognize when to seek assistance. Have the confidence to do so while knowing we, your colleagues and friends, are supporting you. 


S/M Stephen A. Archibald 
Sergeant Major – “F” Division’s Warrant Officer 
Office of the Commanding Officer 
Royal Canadian Mounted Police