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Growing Difficulties… Public Safety Personnel and Exposure to Trauma

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Why are we doing this study?

Public safety personnel (PSP) in Canada are facing growing difficulties dealing with mental health issues. There is evidence that exposure to traumatic events may be linked to mental health disorders. However, little research has been done to find out which types of traumatic events are potentially more damaging, and how often the different public safety sectors are exposed to different traumatic events.

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 members were asked to identify: the sector in which they worked (e.g. communications, corrections, fire, paramedicine, policing); which traumatic events they had experienced; and which event was the worst or most distressing. The participants were also asked to complete several mental health assessment questions.

What did we find?

  • Exposure to potentially traumatic events appeared to be a part of the regular workload for PSP
  • Sudden violent deaths, unexpected accidental deaths, and severe transportation accidents appeared to be the events most often considered traumatic for all PSP sectors.
  • The types of potentially traumatic events PSP encountered in their work differs from one public safety sector to another.
  • Different types of potentially traumatic events were associated with different types of mental disorders. For example,screening positive for depression was connected to all types of potentially traumatic events, except for fire or
  • Sudden violent deaths and severe human suffering were reported as especially problematic for PSP.These events are considered critical incidents, which may justify specific support services and programs for PSP who have experienced such events.

Where do we go from here?

The longer a PSP member serves, the greater his or her exposure to potentially traumatic events. The results indicated thatPSP sector category, types of exposure to potentially traumatic events, uncertainty, perceptions about the events, and mental disorders all interact, creating an intricate pattern that may require lots of tailoring to manage successfully. The results highlight the need for critical incident interventions and other mental health supports designed to lessen the effects of such exposure.

Contact Us

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

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


Summary prepared by: Willis-Camp, T. and Carleton, R. N., 11 March 2019. Edited by Kossick, E. September 2019.