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Research Summaries

Mental Health Disorders and Chronic Pain in Canadian Public Safety Personnel

Keywords: Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health Disorders, Pain, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Trauma

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Why was the study done?

Canadian public safety personnel (PSP) regularly risk their physical and mental wellbeing in serving their communities. Research suggests that over 44% of Canadian PSP are suffering from one or more mental health disorders such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and alcohol use disorder. Additional research also suggests that Canadian PSP appear to be at a higher risk for chronic pain than the general population. Chronic pain is pain that does not go away, even after the normal healing process has ended, and it is linked to substantial personal, social, and economic costs.

The relationship between mental health disorders and chronic pain in Canadian PSP is unclear. This study was designed to help us to understand how common chronic pain and mental health disorders are in Canadian PSP. What was done in the study?

What Was done in the study?

We sent out a secure online survey (in French and English) to Canadian PSP and 5093 participants responded. All participants were asked questions about their mental and physical wellbeing, and whether or not they were experiencing chronic pain.

What was found?

  • Almost a quarter (23.1%) of participants reported that they experienced concerns with symptoms of both chronic pain and some type of mental disorder.
  • PSP who reported chronic pain were more likely to screen positive for mental health disorders such as PTSD, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and alcohol use disorder.
  • There also seems to be a link between traumatic stress symptoms and chronic pain. When both traumatic stress and chronic pain are present, the conditions seem to maintain each other.

Where do we go from here?

Canadian PSP regularly experience difficult working conditions that increase their risk for developing mental disorders and chronic pain. The results of this study suggest that PSP who experienced chronic pain were significantly more likely to report various mental health disorders. When caring for PSP, it may be helpful to assess for difficulties with chronic pain and mental disorders, as these problems often co-exist. The early recognition of symptoms of pain or mental disorders may be helpful in reducing the long-term impact of these problems and improving quality of life.

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

Original Article: Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T. O., Taillieu, T., Turner, S., El-Gabalawy, R., Sareen, J., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2018). Anxiety-related psychopathology and chronic pain comorbidity among public safety personnel. Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

Summary prepared by: Julia E Mason and Stephanie Korol, March 2018. Edited by Kossick, E and Martin, R. September 2019.

Lay summary prepared by Kossick, E.

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