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Research Summaries

Is there a relationship between mental health knowledge, stigma, and help-seeking in public safety personnel?

Keywords: Knowledge, Mental Health, Mental Health Disorders, Stigma

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Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel (PSP) experience increased risk for mental health disorders compared to the general population. This increased risk is likely a result of on-the-job exposure to potentially psychologically traumatic events. Many education and training programs have been developed to improve mental health knowledge, reduce the stigma of mental illness, and increase mental health help-seeking in PSP. The current research on these programs has not shown a substantial improvement in PSP mental health.

The goals of the current study are:

  • To determine if there is a relationship between mental health knowledge, stigma, and service-use intentions;
  • To examine the differences between six categories of PSP (communications, corrections, RCMP, firefighters, municipal/provincial police, and paramedics) to see if there are systemic differences across occupations;
  • To compare published mental health data on PSP categories to see if there is a relationship between rates of positive screens for mental disorders with mental health knowledge, stigma, and intention to use mental health services.

What was done in the study?

A national survey was completed. Over 4100 PSP participants completed the Mental Health Knowledge Scale, Open Minds Survey for Workplace Attitudes, and Mental Health Service Use questionnaires. They also completed sociodemographic questions.

What did we find out?

  • For all six PSP occupation categories, the more mental health knowledge they had, the more likely PSP were to seek professional mental health services if needed.
  • In all PSP categories, higher rates of mental health knowledge were associated with lower levels of stigma against peers.
  • In all PSP categories, a higher willingness to seek professional mental health services was related to lower levels of stigma against peers.
  • There were some significant differences between the different PSP categories. Corrections reported higher mental health knowledge compared to firefighters, municipal/provincial police, and RCMP. Corrections, communications, paramedics, and RCMP reported lower levels of stigma against peers compared to municipal/provincial police, with the highest levels reported by firefighters. Corrections and communications PSP reported more willingness to seek professional help if necessary compared to paramedics and RCMP.
  • The relationships between rates of positive screens for mental health disorders and mental health knowledge, stigma against peers, and intention to use mental health services did not have the expected pattern. That is, the groups reporting higher mental health knowledge also had the highest percent of positive screens for any mental disorder.

Where do we go from here?

There are limitations to survey design. Causes cannot be determined in such a design, but important observations can be made, which can lead to new avenues of research. In the current study, those with high mental health knowledge, who have lower levels of stigma against others, seemed generally willing to seek professional help. However, this was not the case for paramedics. Such a result illustrates that further study is required to understand what drives help-seeking behaviour. Previous researchers suggested that increasing mental health knowledge may have a protective effect on PSP mental health. This study shows that corrections participants, who have the highest reported positive screens for mental health disorders, had the highest reported mental health knowledge. This relationship may indicate that the current attempts to use education to improve mental health outcomes for PSP may have limited impact. The nature of PSP work might make prevention unrealistic, but further research or more ongoing training may improve the current programs’ effectiveness.


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

Original Study: Krakauer, R.L., Stelnick, A.M., & Carleton, R. N. (2020). Examining mental health knowledge, stigma, and service use intentions among public safety personnel. Frontiers in Psychology.

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed & edited by Barootes, B. & Krakauer, R.L.

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