Former officer using exercise to help cope with mental illness

By Allan Bradbury
Staff Writer

Disclaimer: this story contains references to suicide. If you or someone you know are strug- gling with suicidal thoughts you can call 1-833-456-4566

Ann McEwen had a 30-year career with the OPP and in the last two years was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Since her diagnosis she has been using exercise as a part of helping her mental health.

McEwen’s PTSD came as a result of a traumatic incident in her policing career.

“It was a direct result of getting called to a sudden death, where (the victim was) a young person that I had spent a significant amount of time with, mentoring and getting to know their family, their school community, their home community,” McEwen said.

She had gotten to know the youth through Project Sunset which was an OPP initiative that gave kids in grades five to eight different learning opportunities to help build skills, self-esteem and strong relationships. The hope was to address the root causes of crime and substance abuse.

“I saw potential in this youth as I did with many of the youth that I spent time with through Project Sunset,” McEwen said.

Project Sunset ended in 2020 when funding ran out but McEwen did things to try to sustain the project.

“I saw the value that it was having within the communities that we were serving and I saw positive outcomes, the behavior changes with the children primarily,” McEwen said. “So when it concluded I understood that it was an organizational decision, but morally, ethically, I really battled with that…So fast forward a couple of years later when I was called to this incident. It obviously upset me because of that fact that I went to this scene that was extremely traumatic, but I looked at it as a mother, I looked at it as a community member, I looked at it as I held a lot of grief, I held a lot of shame.”

The incident led McEwen to take time away from work to work through her grief, six months after the incident she lost a friend and colleague to PTSD.

“I was planning to come back to work prior to (her colleague) passing but I just couldn’t do it,” McEwen said, “It just pushed me further into having to recover from the PTSD and trying to find some balance in my life again. I continued with Psychology, and I found relief for my Post-traumatic stress and my grief symptoms through exercise. I really had to focus and learn about nutrition and how

it is significant when it comes to healing your physical body.”

She says focusing on her physical health has helped her to calm the chaos of her mental health.

“I sometimes refer to it kind of like a SCUBA diver when you’re in the depths and you can’t see your hand in front of you and you don’t know which way is up and all you can do is follow the bubbles to the surface,” McEwen said. “So when I’m in that point of chaos what I discovered is to focus on your physical body. So that’s why I spend a ton of time in the gym and I strength train because it offers me an opportunity for relief when I can meditate and focus on lifting weights.”

McEwen said she knows how lucky she was to have access to help through her work with the OPP noting that all professions that have the potential to experience traumatic events through work have great options for mental health help.

McEwen has also found community in social media. She found The Collective (@the_collective_ig) which is an instagram community founded by Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) veteran Shaun Taylor and net- works with other service members of different areas.

Through The Collective she came into contact with Sachin Latti who is a CBSA officer in British Columbia who has had his own struggles with mental health. Last summer Latti ran 22 marathons in 22 days across British Columbia in an effort to raise funds for Honour House in New Westminister, BC. Honour House is a place for CAF members, veterans and Emergency Services Personnel to stay for free while receiving medical care or treatment in the Vancouver area including those who have issues with mental health. Latti hopes to run across Canada in a similar fundraising venture in the future with hopes of breaking the record for fastest run across Canada.

McEwen said she wanted to share her story so that others out there know they’re not struggling alone.

“If just one person reads the story and says ‘ok I’m not alone in this, then that’s what matters to me,” McEwen said. “Because it’s about suicide prevention, I’m doing this in honor of my friend Pete.”

Former OPP Sergeant Ann McEwen watches her posture in a mirror as she does a lift. McEwen has had issues with PTSD since experiencing a traumatic event on the job. In the years since, McEwen has worked on her mental health in various ways including with exercise. She says the physical work helps her to focus on her body when her mind is going through chaotic periods. –Submitted photo