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Research Summaries

Child Abuse and Suicidal Behaviour in Public Safety Personnel

Keywords: Child Abuse, Suicide, Trauma

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Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel (PSP) are more likely to be exposed to traumatic situations than the general public. This exposure may lead to higher rates of mental health problems and suicidal behaviours (thoughts, plans, and attempts) among PSP.

Previous research has shown that exposure to abuse can also increase the risk of mental health issues and suicidal behaviour. However, no studies have been conducted to explore the relationship between previous exposure to abuse and current exposure to traumatic events in the workplace.

What was done in the study?

Six questions about childhood abuse that had been previously used were included in an online survey along with questions that explored current mental health, suicidal behaviours, and career-related exposure to trauma. Over four thousand public safety personnel completed the survey.

What was found?

  • Over half the PSP that responded to the survey reported a history of child abuse (physical, sexual or exposure to intimate partner violence).
  • Correctional workers and call centre operators/dispatchers had a higher prevalence of abuse that other PSP.
  • All types of child abuse (physical, sexual, or exposure to intimate partner violence) were related to an increase in the prevalence of lifetime suicidal behaviour.
  • Career-related trauma was related to lifetime suicidal behaviour, but there was a stronger relationship between suicidal behaviour and child abuse.

Where do we go from here?

When offering interventions to PSP for work-related trauma, efforts should be made to determine whether or not they experienced different types of abuse during childhood. Intervention strategies that account for historical experiences with child abuse and career-related trauma may be more effective in reducing suicidal behavior among PSP.


The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for this research summary.


Original Study: 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

Summary prepared by: Kossick, E. Reviewed by Martin, R.

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