Publications

I Want Help. But Not From You: Public Safety Personnel and Mental Health Programs and Support

Full Publication

Why was the study done?

Mental health supports for public safety personnel (PSP) are necessary as they are likely to experience traumatic events in their work; however, there is little evidence to explain what helps PSP who are facing mental health challenges. Mental health training programs (e.g., critical incident stress management, debriefing sessions, peer support, mental health first aid) may help to reduce the effects of exposures to traumatic events. PSP may also seek help from professionals (e.g. physicians, psychologists, psychiatrists, chaplains), work-related resources (employee and family assistance plans, leadership teams), and other informal sources of support (spouses, friends, colleagues).

What was done in the study?

PSP, recruited through their employers, organizations, or public announcements, participated in an online survey that assessed mental health symptoms and invited open-ended feedback.  PSP were asked about their experiences with mental health training, their attitudes about mental health, and the types of assistance they were willing to access if they had a workplace mental health problem.

What did we find?

  • PSP are most willing to reach out to spouses and friends for help with mental health problems.
  • Most PSP reported being unwilling to use employee assistance programs or to speak with their leaders about mental health problems, which was consistent with previous reports about workplace stigma.
  • Participation in mental health training appeared to have a small effect on PSP willingness to ask for help.However, most PSP reported that they do have access to professional mental health resources.
  • Participation in mental health training was associated with fewer PSP screening positive for mental health disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and certain types of anxiety.

Where do we go from here?

If spouses are the first choice for mental health support, then more training and resource support for PSP family members may be very beneficial. If asking for help from an employer is considered a last resort, additional leadership training to create stigma-free workplaces may be helpful. More research is needed to understand PSP concerns about using employee assistance programs, and the effect that mental health training has on specific mental health disorders in PSP.

Contact Us

For more information about this research, please contact CIPSRT@cipsrt-icrtsp.ca.

Carleton, R.N., Afifi, T.O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., Vaughan, A.D., Anderson, G.S., Ricciardelli, R., MacPhee, R.S., Cramm, H.A., Czarnuch, S., Hozempa, K., & Camp, R.D. (2019). Mental health training, attitudes toward support, and screening positive for mental disorders. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, pp.1-19. doi.org/10.1080/16506073.2019.1575900

Summary prepared by:  Willis-Camp, T. and Carleton, R. N., 12 March 2019- edited by Kossick, E. September 2019.

Understanding Suicide in Public Safety Personnel in Canada

Full Publication

Why was the study done?

Many public safety personnel (PSP) experience significant symptoms of one or more mental health disorders (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], Major Depressive Disorder) and recent media attention on suicide among PSP has increased concerns about the effect of public service on the mental health of PSP.

Previous studies on suicide among Canadian PSP were limited (i.e., there were only two studies, and both focused on police and no other sectors of PSP). The previous studies also focused on deaths by suicide, not on suicidal thoughts, planning, or attempts.

What was done in the study?

The study was designed to provide initial estimates of past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviour (defined here as thoughts, plans, and attempts) amongst a diverse group of Canadian PSP. Participants were surveyed using a web-based self-report featuring basic yes or no questions based on questions previously used by Statistics Canada. Over 5,000 PSP completed enough of the survey to be included in the analysis.

What did we find out?

  • Younger PSP (under 30) were more likely to report suicidal behaviours, both in the past year and throughout their lifetimes.
  • Single or divorced/widowed PSP were more likely to report suicidal behaviours than their married/common-law counterparts.
  • Women PSP reported higher levels of suicidal behaviours over their lifetimes.
  • A higher number of PSP service years was associated with decreased lifetime suicidal behaviours.
  • Paramedics, correctional workers, and public safety communications officials (e.g. call centre operators, dispatchers) reported higher levels of suicidal behaviours than their PSP counterparts in policing and firefighting.
  • Levels of suicidal behaviour were higher among PSP than the general public.

Where do we go from here?

The current results underscore the need for increasingly broad strategies to successfully manage suicidal behaviour in PSP personnel; however, future studies should attempt to replicate the current results using different methods (e.g., clinical interviews). The research results are ultimately intended to help efforts to reduce the risk of death by suicide among PSP.


For more information about this research contact CIPSRT@cipsrt-icrtsp.ca

The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current lay summary.

Original Study

Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T.O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., LeBouthiller, D.M., Duranceau, S., Sareen, J., Ricciardelli, R., MacPhee, R. S., Groll, D., Hozempa, K., Brunet, A., Weekes, J. R., Griffiths, C. T., Abrams, K.J., Jones, N. A., Beshai, S., Cramm, H. A., Dobson, K. S., Hatcher, S., Keane, T. M., Stewart, S. H., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2018). Suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 59(3), 220-231. doi: 10.1037/cap0000136

Summary prepared by: Kossick, E., September 2019

Mental Health Training, Attitudes Toward Support, and Screening Positive for Mental Disorders (2019)

Full Publication

Lay Summary “I Want Help, But Not From You: Public Safety Personnel and Mental Health Programs and Support

Public safety personnel were asked about their experience with mental health training, their attitudes about mental health, and the types of assistance they were willing to use if they had a workplace mental health issue. Results showed that PSP are most willing to rely on their spouse or friends for mental health support, and would only consider using an Employee Assistance Program as a last resort. There needs to be more research done in order to better understand why PSP access mental health training and the effect it may have on certain types of mental health disorders. This study also shows that more training and resource support for PSP family members and leadership may be needed.

Carleton, R.N., Afifi, T.O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., Vaughan, A.D., Anderson, G.S., Ricciardelli, R., MacPhee, R.S., Cramm, H.A., Czarnuch, S., Hozempa, K., & Camp, R.D. (2019). Mental health training, attitudes toward support, and screening positive for mental disorders. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, pp.1-19. doi:10.1080/16506073.2019.1575900

Exposures to Potentially Traumatic Events Among Public Safety Personnel in Canada (2019)

Full Publication

Lay Summary “How Much Trauma is Too Much? Public Safety Personnel and Exposure to Traumatic Events

First responders and other public safety personnel in Canada may be experiencing substantial difficulties with symptoms of mental health disorders. These difficulties may be associated with increased exposure to potentially traumatic events as part of working in public safety, with specific types of events appearing as particularly problematic.

Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Taillieu, T., Turner, S., Krakauer, R., Anderson, G. S., MacPhee, R. S., Ricciardelli, R, Cramm, H. A., Groll, D., & McCreary, D. R. (2019). Exposures to potentially traumatic events among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 51(1), 37-52. doi: 10.1037/cbs0000115

Association Between a History of Child Abuse and Suicidal Ideation, Plans and Attempts among Canadian Public Safety Personnel: A Cross-Sectional Survey (2018)

Full publication

Public safety personnel experience substantial mental health problems strongly associated with suicide. This study was designed to explore associations between childhood abuse, career-related trauma, and suicidal behaviours. While career-related trauma was significantly associated with suicidal behaviours, experiencing child abuse was found to have an even stronger effect, supporting the recognition of childhood abuse as an important factor related to suicidal behaviours among public safety personnel.

Turner, S., Taillieu, T., Carleton, R. N., Sareen, J., & Afifi, T. (2018). Association between a history of child abuse and suicidal ideation, plans and attempts among Canadian public safety personnel: A cross-sectional survey. Canadian Medical Association Journal Open, 6(4), E463-E470. doi:10.9778/cmajo.20170153

Playing the System: Structural Factors Potentiating Mental Health Stigma, Challenging Awareness, and Creating Barriers to Care for Canadian Public Safety Personnel (2018)

Full Publication

Why does help-seeking for employment-related mental health concerns become unacceptable? This research looks at the open-ended final comments provided by over 828 Canadian PSP as part of a larger online survey designed to assess the prevalence of mental disorders among PSP. Based on these results, it appears that organizational culture and structures may play a role in 1) influencing PSP decision-making to seek mental health care, 2) how PSP who do seek care are viewed by their colleagues, and 3) encouraging PSP to minimize their personal mental health needs. In particular, there was widespread participant suspicion that coworkers who took the time to address their mental health needs were “abusing the system.”

Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Mooney, T., & Cramm, H. (2018). Playing the system: Structural factors potentiating mental health stigma, challenging awareness, and creating barriers to care for Canadian public safety personnel. Health. doi:10.1177/1363459318800167

Suicidal Ideation, Plans, and Attempts Among Public Safety Personnel in Canada (2018)

Full Publication

The current study was designed to assess past-year and lifetime suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts amongst a large diverse sample of Canadian PSP. Significant differences were identified across PSP categories in reports of past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviours.

Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., LeBouthillier, D. M., Duranceau, S., Sareen, J., Ricciardelli, R., MacPhee, R. S., Groll, D., Hozempa, K., Brunet, A., Weekes, J. R., Griffiths, C. T., Abrams, K. J., Jones, N. A., Beshai, S., Cramm, H. A., Dobson, K. S., Hatcher, S., Keane, T. M., Stewart, S. H., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2018). Suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 59(3), 220-231. doi: 10.1037/cap0000136

Qualitatively Unpacking Canadian Public Safety Personnel Experiences of Trauma and Their Well-Being: Physical Manifestations, Psychological Implications, and Fatalistic Attitudes (2018)

Full Publication

Lay Summary “Public Safety Personnel in Their Own Words: Asking for Support with Mental Health

Public safety personnel report experiencing extensive trauma, directly and vicariously, acutely and cumulatively. The effects of this trauma on personnel and their family members are reported as physical, psychological, and social or interpersonal impacts, as well as marital breakdown and relationship dissolution with children, and increased family stress, strain, and anger. PSP also reported they felt that nothing would change, that they had no voice, and that both their employer and the different levels of government did not care about their well-being.

Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Groll, D., & Cramm, H. (2018). Qualitatively unpacking Canadian public safety personnel experiences of trauma and their well-being. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 60(4), 566-577. doi: 10.3138/cjccj.2017-0053.r2

An Integrated Approach to Mental Health in First Responders and Other Public Safety Personnel: A Five-Phase Plan – Strathcona County Emergency Services (2017)

Full Publication

Strathcona County Disability Management explored service standards and programs to address an increase in lost hours and costs due to mental illness, including operational stress injuries, in an effort to apply best practices with regards to mental health. Resistance, resiliency and recovery are supported through Disability Management, prompt access to evidence-based care and a culturally competent provider, Peer Support, a Chaplaincy, and Employee and Family Assistance programming, as well as access to counselling services through extended health care benefits and third- party providers. Advancements made to date have prompted significant cultural change with respect to stigma reduction and increasing help-seeking behaviour. Further, costs associated with WCB-AB claims due to Occupational Stress Injury (OSI) were reduced to zero in 2015, in 2016, and in 2017 to date.

Strathcona County Emergency Services. (2017). An integrated approach to mental health in first responders and other public safety personnel: A five-phase plan. Sherwood Park, AB: Strathcona County.