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Research Summaries

Gender and social support coping in public safety personnel

Keywords: Mental Health, Social Support, Stress

Why was the study done?

Public Safety Personnel (PSP) are exposed to trauma and stress due to their jobs. This trauma and stress exposure may affect women PSP differently than men. Research has shown that women PSP appear to have an elevated risk for suicidal behaviours (thoughts, plans, and attempts) and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Gender may also play a role in how PSP reach out for mental health support. Research in the general population has shown that women tend to favour coping strategies that recognize the stressor and seek solutions to address it (approach strategies). By contrast, men tend to select strategies that avoid confronting or identifying a stressor to avoid uncomfortable emotions (avoidance strategies). General population research has also shown that women use social support coping (SSC), which includes support from friends, co-workers, and family, more than men.

The current study examined gender differences in accessing and using social support to cope with potentially traumatic events and other occupational stressors.

What was done in the study?

Researchers, in this study, analyzed a subset of data from an extensive survey of PSP mental health. The current study examined responses to two open-ended questions that allowed PSP to comment on PSP work generally and social support specifically. In total, researchers analyzed 137 English-language responses to identify important themes.

What did we find out?

  • PSP reported valuing the support of their family, friends, and peers.
  • Men and women spoke of “helping others” as a motivation for their work, but their descriptions of that help varied by gender. Men described themselves as being proactive and putting themselves out there to help. Women tended to emphasize compassion and other emotional aspects of helping.
  • Women were less likely than men to mention spouses as a source of support.
  • Men reported using more avoidant strategies to cope with job stress.
  • Men more than women described their families as a source of social support. For women, it was more common to report friends as a source of social support.
  • Many PSP described turning to informal peer supports to manage job stress. Women mentioned having a peer group of other women PSP to support them.
  • Women spoke of “being the support” or providing support to peers, while men spoke more about receiving support.
  • Women had more trust and confidence in formal organizational supports than men.

Where do we go from here?

This study was limited by the lack of targeted data collection: the questions examined were not focused on gender differences. To develop effective and inclusive formal/informal support programs for PSP, it is crucial to consider how (social) support is perceived and accessed differently by gender. Addressing gender differences may even empower and encourage PSP to reach for additional services and supports in the future.

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


Original Study

Kaur, N., Ricciardelli, R., Fletcher, A., & Carleton, R.N. (2021). ‘You are safe. You are not alone:’ Gender and social support coping (SSC) in public safety personnel. Journal of Gender Studies.

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B., Kaur, N. & Ricciardelli, R.


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