Publications

Sleep quality and mental health disorder symptoms in Canadian PSP

Read the full publication here

Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel (PSP) work in high-stress environments. They also commonly work long hours and regularly report getting less than six hours of sleep. PSP also demonstrate higher rates of mental health disorders compared to the general population. Researchers have shown a relationship between poor sleep and mental health disorders in the general population. The purpose of the current study is to:

  • Provide an estimate of sleep experiences in different Canadian PSP (i.e., corrections workers, firefighters, paramedics, RCMP, municipal police, communications operators);
  • Explore the relationship between sleep quality and mental health disorder symptoms.

What was done in the study?

PSP, recruited through their employers, professional organizations, or public announcements, participated in an online survey that assessed mental health disorder symptoms and sleep patterns. Participants were asked to complete questionnaires about symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). They were also asked to complete the Insomnia Severity Index (ISI) and answer a question about how much stress shift work had caused them in the past six months. Over 5800 PSP completed the questionnaires.

What did we find out?

  • A majority of PSP (56%) reported symptoms consistent with clinical insomnia.
  • PSP reported significantly fewer hours of sleep per work night than the general population, with paramedics having the shortest sleep duration on a work day.
  • 49% of PSP reported symptoms consistent with at least one mental health disorder, with PTSD being the most common at 21%. Corrections workers were the group most likely to report mental health disorder symptoms.
  • RCMP, corrections, paramedics, and communications workers reported significantly more sleep disturbances than firefighters and municipal or rural police.
  • PSP who screened positive for insomnia were 3-6 times more likely to report symptoms of a mental health disorder.
  • Those participants who rated the stress of shift work as high were more likely to report insomnia symptoms.

Where do we go from here?

This study shows that sleep management is an important aspect of the PSP working environment. This study can’t assess if a lack of sleep directly causes mental health disorder symptoms. The relationship may be bi-directional, with sleep affecting mental health disorder symptoms and mental health disorder symptoms affecting sleep. However, the rates of sleep disturbance and the level of mental health disorder symptoms indicate that it would be worthwhile for proper education and sleep hygiene training to be incorporated into basic PSP training courses. Organizations may also want to consider adopting policies that restrict the frequency of lengthy shifts (over 10 hrs), night shifts, and rotating shift patterns. Continued study of sleep and mental health disorder symptoms will be required to understand the relationship fully.


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

Original Study: Angehrn, A., Sapach, M.J.N., Ricciardelli, R., MacPhee, R. S., Anderson, G.S., & Carleton, R. N. (2020). Sleep quality and mental health disorder symptoms among Canadian public safety personnel. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(8), 2708.

https://dx.doi.org/10.3390%2Fijerph17082708

Lay summary prepared by Kossick, E.


Road to Mental Readiness in Canadian Police Sample

Why was the study done?

The duties of police officers often expose them to dangerous situations and traumatic events. In addition, police officers may struggle to find a balance between heavy workloads and their personal lives. Increasing their ability to successfully cope with stress may be one strategy for improving their mental health and preventing the onset of future mental health concerns. The Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) program, initially developed by the Canadian military, provides participants with education about mental health and stress, as well as several therapeutic stress management skills (e.g, goal setting, tactical breathing, awareness of self-talk, mental rehearsal/visualization).

What was done in the study?

Participants (147 Canadian police agency employees) received a single session of the R2MR training. The participants then completed secure online self-report surveys before and after their R2MR training session, as well as 6- and 12-months later.

What was found?

  • A single session of R2MR training did not lead to changes in participants’ mental health symptoms, work engagement, resiliency, or mental health knowledge.
  • Participants did report small reductions in mental health stigma.
  • When asked to share their thoughts on R2MR, participants described the training as helpful, particularly for changing attitudes and improving mental health communication.

Where do we go from here?

The current results suggest that a single session of R2MR training might help participants feel more comfortable seeking help with their mental health. Further study is required to determine if more than one session of R2MR training would produce actual changes in several important outcomes (mental health symptoms, work engagement, resiliency, and mental health knowledge). More research is also needed to evaluate the impact of different training options and different versions of the R2MR program.


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

Original Article: Carleton, R. N., Korol, S., Mason, J. E., Hozempa, K., Anderson, G. S., Jones, N. A., Dobson, K. S., Szeto, A. & Bailey, S. (2018). A longitudinal assessment of the road to mental readiness training among municipal police. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, 47(6), 508-528. doi:10.1080/16506073.2018.1475504

Summary prepared by: Mason, J., Jones, N., and Carleton, R.N. Edited by Kossick, E. and Martin, R. September 2019.

Chronic Pain in Public Safety Personnel: A Pervasive Problem

Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel (PSP) may regularly experience working conditions that demand intense physical effort, and exposure to trauma. Their working conditions may lead to chronic pain (defined as pain lasting longer than three months). Chronic pain is relatively common in the general population, but may be even more common among in PSP. There has been some research on short-term pain in PSP; however, research on chronic pain is lacking. If chronic pain is a common problem for PSP, more research may help to provide relief and protect against injury.

What was done in the study?

The current study was designed to estimate how common chronic pain is for Canadian PSP. Data was gathered with an anonymous online survey where approximately 5000 self-reported on their experiences with chronic pain.

What was found?

  • About 40.2% of participating PSP reported chronic pain.
  • Correctional workers were most likely to report chronic pain (45.4%).
  • Chronic pain appears to be more common in PSP than the general public.
  • The most common area for chronic pain was the lower back with many paramedics (28.9%) reporting more chronic lower back pain than other PSP groups.
  • About 40.2% of chronic pain was reported as resulting from work-related activities.

Where do we go from here?

Chronic pain was commonly reported by participants from all PSP sectors and many identified their work-related activities as the cause. The percentage of PSP groups reporting chronic pain ranged from 35.3% (Firefighters) to 45.4% (Correctional Workers). The current estimates suggest chronic pain may be more common among PSP than the general population. The prevalence rates reported in the current study may be an underestimate because all participants were still on active duty. Some types of pain (e.g., back pain) were more common among specific groups of PSP, and the differences may guide future efforts to prevent and treat pain more effectively. Future researchers may also examine the links between chronic pain, trauma, and mental illness.


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

Original Article: Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., El-Gabalawy, R, Sareen, J., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2017). Chronic pain among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Journal of Pain, 1(1), 237-246. Doi: 10.1080/24740527.2017.1410431

Summary prepared by: Cottenie, K and Kossick, E. September 2019. Edited by Martin, R September 2019

Mental Health Disorders and Chronic Pain in Canadian Public Safety Personnel

Why was the study done?

Canadian public safety personnel (PSP) regularly risk their physical and mental wellbeing in serving their communities. Research suggests that over 44% of Canadian PSP are suffering from one or more mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and alcohol use disorder. Additional research also suggests that Canadian PSP appear to be at a higher risk for chronic pain than the general population. Chronic pain is pain that does not go away, even after the normal healing process has ended, and it is linked to substantial personal, social, and economic costs.

The relationship between mental health disorders and chronic pain in Canadian PSP is unclear. This study was designed to help us to understand how common chronic pain and mental health disorders are in Canadian PSP. What was done in the study?

What Was done in the study?

We sent out a secure online survey (in French and English) to Canadian PSP and 5093 participants responded. All participants were asked questions about their mental and physical wellbeing, and whether or not they were experiencing chronic pain.

What was found?

  • Almost a quarter (23.1%) of participants reported that they experienced concerns with symptoms of both chronic pain and some type of mental disorder.
  • PSP who reported chronic pain were more likely to screen positive for mental health disorders such as PTSD, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and alcohol use disorder.
  • There also seems to be a link between traumatic stress symptoms and chronic pain. When both traumatic stress and chronic pain are present, the conditions seem to maintain each other.

Where do we go from here?

Canadian PSP regularly experience difficult working conditions that increase their risk for developing mental disorders and chronic pain. The results of this study suggest that PSP who experienced chronic pain were significantly more likely to report various mental health disorders. When caring for PSP, it may be helpful to assess for difficulties with chronic pain and mental disorders, as these problems often co-exist. The early recognition of symptoms of pain or mental disorders may be helpful in reducing the long-term impact of these problems and improving quality of life.


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

Original Article: Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Taillieu, T., Turner, S., El-Gabalawy, R., Sareen, J., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2018). Anxiety-related psychopathology and chronic pain comorbidity among public safety personnel. Journal of Anxiety Disorders. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2018.03.006

Summary prepared by: Julia E Mason and Stephanie Korol, March 2018. Edited by Kossick, E and Martin, R. September 2019.

Lay summary prepared by Kossick, E.

Public Safety Personnel in Their Own Words: Asking For Support with Mental Health

Why was the study done?

Canadian public safety personnel (PSP) are regularly exposed to dangerous and traumatic experiences that most civilians will never encounter. PSP experiences may take a physical, psychological, and social/interpersonal toll on PSP and their families. Few studies have been conducted that capture the perspectives of PSP (in their own words) about their experiences with trauma and their overall well-being.

What was done in the study?

An online survey was distributed to nearly 9000 public safety personnel. The survey included questions assessing PSP experiences with work-related stress injuries and symptoms. Participants were also invited to provide additional open-ended comments. The responses of 828 participants to the open-ended comments were examined and summarized.

What did we find out?

In analyzing the responses of PSP, the following core themes were identified:

  • PSP reported exposure to repeated and extensive trauma with physical, psychological, and social/interpersonal effects. The effects on their families included marital breakdown, dissolved relationships with children, and increased stress, strain, and anger within the family.
  • PSP described a sense of alienation between their past and present selves, suggesting that their work-related experiences have changed them in profound and lasting ways.
  • PSP reported feeling that their employers and governing bodies ignored their personal needs and well-being (and the needs and well-being of their families). PSP also reported feeling powerless and vulnerable. At a deeper level, the comments of participants suggest they felt forsaken by their employers and government.
  • The results also indicated that PSP wanted a strong national and federal response that emphasized:

1. recognition of PSP contributions;
2. recognition of the mental health challenges PSP experience; and,
3. measurable efforts toward improving supports for PSP who provide critical
support for the safety of all citizens.

Participants expressed a strong desire for such a national and federal response. Participants also reported little or no hope that meaningful changes would occur. The absence of hope is particularly concerning because hopelessness is an identified risk factor for suicide; however, following that notion, if meaningful hope can be provided, the risk for suicide may be lowered.

Where do we go from here?

The current study illustrates the value of asking PSP to describe, in their own words, their experiences with trauma, and the potential effects of such experiences. Participants described extensive exposure to trauma in their work, along with negative physical, psychological, and social/interpersonal effects. PSP reported feeling ignored and abandoned by their employers and government. The participants also argued for creating a national action plan to provide evidence-based supports for the mental and physical health for all PSP and their families. The same national action plan may innovative solutions for providing evidence-based treatment options and tailored pathways to accessing care.


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

Original Article: 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. Open access available: https://www.utpjournals.press/doi/full/10.3138/cjccj.2017-0053.r2

Summary prepared by Abrams, A., Willis-Camp, T., Ricciardelli, R., and Carleton, R.N., 12 March 2019 Edited by Kossick, E. and Martin, R. September 2019

Veteran and First Responder Mental Ill Health and Suicide Prevention (2019)

Dr. Donald McCreary, with the support of Movember, undertook a scoping review to examine the effectiveness of current programs for first responders and military veterans for mental health and suicide prevention that take a prevention or early intervention approach in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the UK. The review has 5 main goals:

  1. Identify general types of mental health prevention, early intervention, and suicide prevention programs used by first responders and military veterans.
  2. Identify similar programs offered to the families of first responders and veterans.
  3. Review the evidence for the effectiveness of the programs offered.
  4. Summarize the evidence and identify promising programs for both employees and families.
  5. Identify potential gaps with the existing programs.

The review was done in 3 steps

  1. Identifying existing research to support prevention and early intervention programs.
  2. Interviewing Subject Matter Experts (SME) in each country about available programs, their validity, and gaps in current knowledge.
  3. Exploring Google and social media sites (LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook) to find additional program information. 

What was found?

In reviewing the existing literature the following was found:

  • The review of the scientific literature revealed that there is little evidence of overall effectiveness when it comes to psychoeducation and skills based programming.
  • Any effects on participants’ mental health tends to be small and diminishes over time (> 1 month).
  • Early intervention programs had little effect on reducing mental ill health in first responders.
  • Most workplace suicide prevention programs have no evidence of effectiveness, mostly because these types of programs are generally not evaluated for effectiveness.

In speaking with SMEs, these themes were identified:

  • There are no validated mental health prevention programs available.
  • Everyone appears to be working on their own.
  • Organizations are attempting to find a balance between doing the work and protecting their people.
  • No one seems to be aware of the limited evidence for the programs.
  • Gender differences need to be considered when developing programs.
  • There may be group differences in prevention expectations.

A review of the research literature and interviews with SMEs also identified a range of knowledge gaps in our understanding about existing prevention and early intervention programs for mental health in first responders, veterans, and their families. These gaps include a: lack of high quality prevalence data, restrictive focus on PTSD, lack of evidence for existing programs, lack of focus on families, and a lack of understanding of organizational barriers.

Where do we go from here?

The review showed that many organizations recognize the importance of the mental health burden faced by these groups and they are trying to address the problem. However, prevention and early intervention programs appear to be used without making sure they do what they say they do. The programs also tend to focus on the employee, placing a burden on individuals to maintain their own psychological health. The report makes eight recommendations for next steps.

  1. Better quality data is needed to monitor mental health
  2. Prioritize the evaluation of programs and the development of evaluation standards
  3. Move beyond the focus on traumatic events
  4. Move beyond the focus on PTSD
  5. Establish separate programs focused on suicide prevention
  6. Organizations need better targeted programs for veterans
  7. Families need more than just Employee Assistance Program (EAP) access
  8. Gender differences need to be considered when developing programs.

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

To view the executive summary please click here

For information on the full report or a copy of the report please contact: andrea.tuch@movember.com

To learn more about Movember and their mental health initiatives visit: www.ca.movember.com

The Original Report: McCreary, D.R. (2019, August). Veteran and first responder mental ill health and suicide prevention: A scoping review of prevention and early intervention programs used in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and the United Kingdom. British Columbia, Canada: Donald McCreary Scientific Consulting.

Summary Prepared by: Kossick, E., Martin, R., and McCreary, D. October 2019


 

Prevalence of Mental Health Disorders in Provincial Correctional Service Workers

Read the full publication here

Why was the study done?

Correctional workers, like all public safety personnel (PSP), are exposed to potentially psychologically traumatic events (PPTEs). However, very little research has been done on the prevalence of mental health disorders among correctional workers employed in institutions or the community. The current study had three purposes:

1. To explore self-report rates (i.e. participants’ own reports of their symptoms) for mental health disorders in Ontario correctional workers

2. To look at the differences in mental health disorders for various correctional job categories.

3. To investigate relationships between mental health disorders and demographic risk factors like sex, age, and marital status.

What was done in the study?

A request to participate in the web-based survey was sent to Ontario correctional workers through the Solicitor General of Ontario and the Public Service Employees Union. The survey included previously used screening measures for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), in addition to sociodemographic questions and questions about job category.

Participants were asked to identify their job category from a list of six categories. The categories were: correctional officers, probation officers, wellness (nurses, social workers), training (teachers, chaplains, etc.), governance (superintendents, etc.), and administration.

What did we find out?

  • Positive screens for all mental health disorders increased with age. There was a significant difference between those in the 20–29 year old group and the 40–49 year old group, with the 40-49 year old group having a higher number of positive screens.
  • Generally, the longer someone was on the job, the more likely they were to screen positive for a mental health disorder. A significant difference exists between those with less than four years of correctional work experience compared to those with more than 15 years of correctional work experience.
  • Married participants or those in common-law relationships screened positive less often for mental health disorders in comparison to participants who were separated, divorced, or widowed.
  • Workers in the wellness category were less likely to screen positive for mental health disorders than other categories, especially training, governance, and probation officers.
  • Prevalence rates for the different mental health disorders varied by job category, but in the total sample, they were as follows: 30.7 % PTSD, 37% MDD, 30.5% GAD, 14.1% PD, 6.7% AUD.
  • Correctional officers were most likely to screen positive for mental health disorders
  • There was no overall difference between men and women participants except for those in the correctional officer category, where women were more likely to screen positive for mental health disorders.
  • The results were comparable to studies of federal correctional officers, but the provincial correctional officers had higher rates of positive screens for MDD and GAD.

Where do we go from here?

The results of the current study support those found in the federal correctional population. While there are many limitations to web-based surveys, the results show a need for increased mental health supports for correctional workers. Studies are currently being undertaken, but more are required, to help understand the mental health needs faced by correctional workers

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


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

Original Study: Carleton, R.N., Ricciardelli, R., Taillieu, T., Mitchell, M.M., Andres, E., & Afifi, T. 2020. Provincial correctional service workers: The prevalence of mental disorders. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(7), 2203. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17072203

Kossick, E. Reviewed & edited by : Barootes, B. & Ricciardelli, R. June 2020.


Relationship between mental health concerns and suicidal behaviour

Read the full publication here

Why was the study done?

Police, like all public safety personnel (PSP), are exposed to stressful and potentially psychologically traumatic events as part of their jobs. Research evidence indicates a high prevalence of mental health issues and suicidal behaviours (defined as thoughts, plans, or attempts) in PSP. Understanding the relationship between positive screens for mental health conditions and suicidal behaviours in different police populations (RCMP vs. provincial/municipal police vs. civilian police workers) can help inform efforts to improve the mental health of all police.

What was done in the study?

PSP, recruited through their employers, professional organizations, or public announcements, participated in an online survey that assessed mental health symptoms, and invited open-ended feedback. The current study included participants from this larger group who identified themselves as RCMP, provincial/municipal police, or civilian police workers. Participants were asked to complete measures for symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) and Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).The study included questions with “yes or no” answers that had been used in previous national mental health surveys by Statistics Canada, to assess lifetime suicidal behaviours.

What did we find out?

  • RCMP participants reported significantly higher rates of suicidal thoughts than other police.
  • Civilian police worker participants reported significantly higher rates of suicide attempts than RCMP or police.
  • RCMP participants screened positive for PTSD, MDD, GAD, SAD and PD at higher rates than other police.
  • Civilian police workers screened positive for SAD at higher rates than provincial/municipal police.
  • There were no differences in reports risky drinking behaviour or suicidal planning between the three groups.
  • The reports of suicidal thoughts was significantly higher for RCMP and provincial/municipal police who screened positive for any mental disorder and risky drinking. For civilian police workers, the likelihood of reporting suicidal thoughts was higher if they screened positive for PTSD.
  • Provincial/municipal police were over 11 times more likely to report suicidal thoughts if they screened positive for depression.
  • RCMP and provincial/municipal police participants who screened positive for MDD, PTSD, or PD were more likely to have suicidal plans. Further, the likelihood of reporting suicidal plans was higher for provincial/municipal police who screened positive for SAD.
  • The likelihood of reporting a suicide attempt was higher for RCMP participants who screened positive for PTSD.

Where do we go from here?

The study results suggest that the relationship between positive screens for mental health disorders and self-reported suicidal behaviours may be different depending on the population (RCMP, provincial/municipal police, and civilian police workers.) This means that specific education programs that promote mental health awareness, resiliency, and coping, may be beneficial for supporting the mental health needs of different populations.

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


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

Original Study

Di Nota, P.M., Anderson, G.S., Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R.N. & Groll, D. (2020). Mental disorders, suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts among Canadian Police. Occupational Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa026

Lay Summary Prepared by: Kossick, E. Edited and Reviewed by: Anderson, G.S, Martin, R. & Jones, N.


Is Trauma Ranked? Understanding the experiences of Public Safety Personnel

Read the full publication here

Why was the study done?

In the course of their work, Public Safety Personnel (PSP) are exposed to more potentially traumatic events (PTEs) than the general population. Trauma exposure can be direct (e.g., police-involved shootings) or indirect (interviewing victims) and beyond critical incidents (e.g. road disasters, deaths) an accumulation of smaller indirect events can also lead to mental health issues. However, a critical barrier to PSP receiving help might be an organizational culture that believes that only direct exposures to trauma affect mental health. A ranking system of trauma might exist among PSP that could affect how they view the legitimacy of mental health issues and treatment-seeking behaviour.  The goal of this study was to see how PSP viewed different PTEs and how ‘eligibility’ for being traumatized is determined by PSP.

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 to report about their most traumatic incident/ event experience using the Life Events Checklist. If the event was not one of the options offered or they wanted to provide more context, there was the option of open-ended feedback; 284 participants (110 female; 170 male) offered such feedback, which was analyzed in this study.

What did the study find?

  • A ranking system exists within the PSP community based on how trauma is experienced with direct exposure to PTEs being considered more traumatic than indirect exposure.
  • Participants reported that they expected mental suffering had to be proportional to the level of interpreted trauma, regardless of how the individual might have been affected by the event. For example, those who had been involved directly on the scene would be impacted more than those that read the report, regardless of the individual’s previous experiences.
  • Suffering from a less traumatic event (e.g., indirect, accumulated trauma), despite its actual affect, was culturally less legitimate.
  • Seeking support and treatment for direct exposure to PTEs was seen as always warranted while seeking it for lesser-ranked trauma was not.
  • The experiences of communications officials might not be understood as being PTEs because they often experience the trauma indirectly.
  • Many PSP feel that their trauma-related suffering is taken most seriously only if it is reported and addressed within a certain period of time.

Where do we go from here?

More research needs to be done to better understand how PSP experience and thus rank different types of trauma (direct vs. indirect), and how they determine whether their peers can legitimately claim to be traumatized. However, the authors make the case that PSP would benefit from more education about the legitimate basis for trauma following all types of trauma. All PSP should feel empowered to seek assistance without the threat of stigma, regardless of the types of trauma they have experienced.

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


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

Original Article: Ricciardelli, R., Czarnuch, S., Afifi, T.O., & Carleton, R.N. (2020). Public Safety Personnel’s interpretations of potentially traumatic events. Occupational Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqaa007

Lay Summary prepared by Kossick, E., Reviewed by: Martin, R. & Ricciardelli, R., 2020


 

The Relative Impact of Various Stressors on Public Safety Personnel

Why was the study done?

Public Safety Personnel (PSP) regularly come in contact with potentially psychologically traumatic events (PPTE). Further, PSP experience occupational stressors that include organizational challenges (e.g., staff shortages, inconsistent leadership styles) and operational challenges (e.g, shift work, public scrutiny). The current study was done to better understand the occupational stressors experienced by PSP as well as assess for relationships with potentially psychologically traumatic events, mental health challenges, and mental disorders.

What was done in the study? 

A final sample of 4,820 participants (32% female) completed online questionnaires about: their employment sector; occupational stressors (e.g., dealing with coworkers, staff shortages, inconsistent leadership); the number of PPTE they have experienced directly or indirectly on the job (i.e., 16 different types of PPTE were assessed); and a wide range of symptoms of mental health challenges and mental disorders (e.g., Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Alcohol Use Disorder, among others). 

What did we find out? 

  • PSP report significant exposure to occupational stressors in the workplace, such as inconsistent leadership styles, staff shortages, a workplace culture perceived as unsupportive, shift work, and public scrutiny.
  • Perceived occupational stress was strongly associated with evidence of mental health disorders, even after accounting for PPTE exposures.
  • PSP are unavoidably exposed to a range of PPTE (on average our participants reported experiencing 11 of 16 types of trauma that were assessed), and the self-reported exposures appear associated with mental health disorders.
  • In most cases, the associations between occupational stressors were more associated with some mental disorders than with PPTEs. 

Where do we go from here?

The relationships between PSP perceptions of occupational stressors and their mental health challenges do not necessarily mean one causes the other. The relationship may be more complex than can be identified with the current cross-sectional data; nevertheless, the current study suggests further investigations are needed to understand the role of occupational stressors in PSP mental health. Longitudinal research may help to clarify specific questions about causation. Research into reducing occupational stressors may identify ways to help manage, and perhaps even prevent, some mental health challenges. Future studies may involve clinical interviews or behavioural information to gather more complete and in-depth information about different stressors and their impact on PSP mental health. In the interim, efforts should focus on examining leadership training and support, increased organizational engagement, increased staffing, reduced stigma, improved sleep, and strengthening social support.

Contact Us

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


Original Article: Carleton, R.N., Afifi, T.O., Turner, S., Mason, J.E., Ricciardelli, R., McCreary, D.R., Vaughan, A., Anderson, G. S., Krakauer, R., Donnelly, E.A., Camp, R.D. II, Groll, D., Cramm, H.A., MacPhee, R.S., & Griffiths, C.T. (2020). Assessing the relative impact of diverse stressors among public safety personnel. International Journal of Environmental Research & Public Health 17 (4), 1234. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17041234


Summary prepared by:  Martin, R. Reviewed and edited by Carleton, R. N., 2020.