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Research Summaries

Playing the System

Keywords: Mental Health, Mental Health Issues, Trauma

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Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel (PSP) are regularly exposed to potentially traumatic events, which can lead to several mental health issues (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder, depression). It is well known that people who experience mental health issues often feel stigmatized, which can stop them from seeking help. Studies on mental health stigma in PSP are limited. The goal of this study is to provide initial information on how PSP feel about people seeking mental health assistance.

What was done in the study?

As part of a larger national online survey about the prevalence of mental disorders among PSP, participants were given the chance to provide additional, open-ended information or feedback. Over 800 personnel from diverse PSP groups offered valuable insights, which were used to determine PSP attitudes toward co-workers dealing with mental health issues.

What did we find?

  • The PSP surveyed recognized that mental health injuries were real and believed that they were common in the PSP community.
  • They had a genuine concern for fellow PSP who might experience mental injuries or trauma.
  • Participants expressed a real concern that there were those in the PSP community who might “abuse” the resources available for mental health care. Such perceived abuse would limit resources for those with “legitimate” issues.
  • PSP surveyed thought other PSP were using work-related mental health resources to deal with personal problems, as opposed to work-related problems.
  • There was a belief that trauma experienced on the job is just “part of the job,” and people would be taking advantage of the system if they used mental health resources.
  • PSP worried that taking time off to deal with mental health issues would place an unfair burden on their colleagues (who would be called upon to fill in for them) and the budgets of their organizations.

Where do we go from here?

As there is increased awareness of mental health issues amongst PSP, there will need to be a change in the culture of PSP organizations. Resources should be made available to provide PSP with education about the causes of mental health problems and the supports that are available. Financial resources and staffing support should also be in place so that, when PSP take time off to deal with psychological problems, they do not have to worry about budgetary impacts or any undue burden on their colleagues. These changes may increase the likelihood that PSP personnel access mental health supports when needed.


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

Original Article: Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R. N., Mooney, T., & Cramm, H. (2018). Playing the system: Structural factors potentiating mental health stigma, challenging awareness, and creating barriers to care for Canadian public safety personnel. Health.

Lay Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed by Martin, R.

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