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Research Summaries

Mental health disorders in civilian employees and police officers

Keywords: Depression, Mental Health, Mental Health Disorders, Resiliency

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Why was the study done?

Recent research shows that public safety personnel (PSP) experience higher rates of mental health disorders than the general public. Less studied is the mental health of the civilians that work in public safety environments. In police organizations, for example, there are clerks, communications staff, data analysts, etc. Though not sworn officers, these employees may also be exposed to potentially traumatic events or content. The goal of the current study is:

  • To examine the prevalence of mental health disorder symptoms in an entire police organization, including police and civilian employees;
  • To compare the two groups to each other and the general population.

What was done in the study?

Participants were recruited by email from two RCMP divisions in Western Canada (Alberta & NWT). Participants completed measures for symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), and a measure of resiliency. Responses were received from 513 people (201 civilians & 312 police).

What did we find out?

  • 26% of those surveyed displayed symptoms for at least one mental health disorder.
  • Civilians were significantly more likely to display symptoms than police (32.8% compared to 22.7%). Both groups had higher levels of positive screening for mental health disorders than the general population (10.1%).
  • The most significant difference was in the measure of depression, where civilians displayed symptoms of depression more often than police officers. However, police displayed symptoms for alcohol misuse more often than civilians.
  • There was no difference in the measure of resiliency.

Where do we go from here?

There are limitations to a survey-based study, and the sample size of this study is small. However, the results do mirror those seen in other surveys of PSP. The results suggest that civilian employees that work in a law enforcement environment may be at greater risk of trauma related mental health disorders compared to the general population.  It is important that the efforts to protect the mental health of police officers are extended to all people working in police organizations. By recognizing that civilian employees might be struggling with mental health in the same way as officers, organizations can improve the environment for all employees.

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

Original Study: Lentz, L., Silverstone, P.H., & Krameddine, Y.I. 2020. High rates of mental health disorders in civilian employees working in police organizations.

Frontiers in Psychology, 28 May 2020.

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Review & Edited by Barootes, B. & Krameddine, Y.I.


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