Why was the study done?
Research has shown that Canadian police officers have higher prevalence rates of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the general population. There are several factors believed to affect PTSD symptoms, either by increasing the risk or providing protection.
PTSD has also been shown, in some cases, to lead to posttraumatic growth (PTG). The factors that may affect the development of PTG have not been researched in police officers.
The goals of the current study are:
- to assess the impact of potential risk factors, including adverse childhood experiences, intolerance of uncertainty (IU; worry about uncertain future events), anxiety sensitivity (AS; fear of anxiety symptoms), personality facets, and work disengagement;
- to assess the impact of potential protective factors, including social support, hope, work engagement and optimism;
- to explore differences between municipal police (MP) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
What was done in the study?
Saskatchewan RCMP and members from six municipal police forces were invited to take part in the study. Of the officers that responded to the survey, 500 (148 MP, 352 RCMP) completed all self-report measures and were included in the study analysis. In addition to measures of PTSD, PTG, and exposure to potentially psychologically traumatic events, participants completed measures for all of the potential risk and protective factors.
What did we find out?
- All the officers reported experiencing at least one potentially traumatic event.
- 12% of MP and 25% of RCMP met the criteria for a possible diagnosis of PTSD.
- For MP, IU and AS measures were positively related to PTSD scores, which means that, as scores on IU and AS increased, scores on the PTSD measure increased. The opposite was true for scores of social support and optimism when compared to PTSD scores.
- For RCMP, years deployed, personality facets, IU, and AS measures were positively related to PTSD scores. Similar MP scores of social support and optimism were negatively related to PTSD scores.
- For MP scores on the PTSD measure were positively related to PTG scores. PTG scores were also positively related to the personality facets of agreeableness and neuroticism and to scores on the measure of hope.
- For RCMP, scores on the PTSD measure were positively related to PTG scores. PTG scores were also positively related to the personality facets of agreeableness and neuroticism and to scores on the measure of childhood abuse.
- Overall, MP reported higher levels of the protective factors—hope, optimism, social support and work engagement— compared to RCMP. Both groups had similar levels for the risk factors—IU, AS, personality facets, adverse childhood experiences, and work disengagement.
Where do we go from here?
This sample was focused on a group of officers from Saskatchewan, and it was only based on self-reported measures. However, the sample still provided some interesting insights into the risk and protective factors associated with PTSD. The study supports previous research that demonstrated that RCMP face higher levels of PTSD than their municipal counterparts. This study also provides the first research into PTG in a police sample. Knowing which risk and protective variables influence susceptibility to PTSD and PTG could help police organizations improve screening, training, assessment, and treatment for police officers.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Horswill, S.C., Jones, N.A., & Carleton, R.N. (2021). Psychosocial factors associated with Canadian police officers’ susceptibility to posttraumatic stress and growth. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science. https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fcbs0000221
Summary prepared by Kossick E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B. & Horswill, S.C.