Why was the study done?
Many front-line workers and first responders are referred to as Public Safety Personnel (PSP); for example, firefighters, Indigenous emergency management, paramedics, police (federal, municipal, and provincial), and public safety communicators. PSP are routinely exposed to potentially psychologically traumatic events (PPTEs) and occupational stressors, including from job duties (operational stressors) and from the work context or work environment (organizational stressors). Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) and Conservation and Protection (C&P) officers are also considered PSP; however, CCG and C&P officers have not traditionally been included in PSP research despite facing similar occupational stressors.
Common stressors for Canadian PSP include fatigue due to shift work and overtime, difficulty finding time for physical health activities, and difficulty maintaining social connections (e.g., spending quality time with friends and family). CCG and C&P officers differ from other Canadian PSP by working in the field, away from family, friends, and, at times, colleagues, for prolonged periods, meaning they may have unique needs compared to other PSP.
Research examining the associations between mental health challenges and occupational stressors (organizational and operational stressors) that CCG and C&P officers might face is limited. Specifically, the impact that PPTEs and occupational stressors have on CCG and C&P officers, and whether PPTEs and occupational stressors interact and affect mental health outcomes. The current study was designed to help address existing gaps.
What was done in the study?
CCG and C&P officers completed a web-based survey and self-reported occupational stressors (organizational and operational stressors), PPTE exposures, mental health disorders symptoms, and sociodemographic information. The current study assessed the following:
- Differences in organizational and operational stress levels among CCG and C&P officers and previously surveyed PSP;
- Associations between mental health challenges (e.g., Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and overall organizational and operational stress levels and specific item-level stressors; and,
- Interactions between PPTE exposures, other organizational and operational stressors, and mental health challenge(s).
What did we find out?
In the current study, many of the occupational stressors were associated with a higher risk of a mental health challenges such as posttraumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and alcohol use disorder. PPTE exposures and other occupational stressors were each independently associated with mental health challenges. When these were assessed together, operational stressors were associated with all mental health disorders, suggesting operational stressors also impact mental health in addition to PPTE exposures and organizational stressors. The current study results suggest all occupational stressors (operational and organizational) are associated with increased risk for mental health challenges among CCG and C&P officers. Mental health disorders may be exacerbated by occupational stressors unique to CCG and C&P officers (e.g., social anxiety disorder symptoms could arise due to social isolation), or a perceived lack of social support associated with regular job duties. PSP cannot avoid PPTE exposures, but we might help improve CCG and C&P officer mental health by reducing other occupational stressors.
Where do we go from here?
Due to the unique working conditions of CCG and C&P officers, their leaders and managers may find focusing on specific occupational stressors particularly helpful. Leaders might be able to help reduce mental health stigma by offering training and resources to their members. Leaders might also innovate opportunities for CCG and C&P officers to strengthen their social support networks. CCG and C&P officers could also be included in discussions about identifying opportunities to reduce occupational stressors and to get feedback on the effectiveness of existing programs. Such activities may collectively help support the mental health of CCG and C&P officers.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Andrews, K. L., Jamshidi, L., Nisbet, J., Teckchandani, T.A., Price, J. A. B., Ricciardelli, R., Anderson, G. S., Carleton, R. N. Assessing the Relative Impact of Diverse Stressors among Canadian Coast Guard and Conservation and Protection Officers. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2022 Dec 7;19(24):16396. doi: 10.3390/ijerph192416396. PMID: 36554280; PMCID: PMC9778725.
Prepared by K. Harris