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Research Summaries

Relationship between previous military experience and current PSP mental health

Keywords: Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health Disorders, Military Personnel, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic events

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Why was the study done?

Military personnel and public safety personnel (PSP) are exposed to more potentially traumatic events than the general population. Studies have shown that both groups have higher incidents of mental health disorders. Many PSP organizations hire people who previously served in the military since their skills often match those needed in PSP professions. There has been no research into the mental health of PSP who have previous military experience.

The current study was designed to determine if there is a relationship between previous military experience and mental health disorders in PSP.

What was done in the study?

Data for this study is from a large web-based survey of PSP. Self-report measures of depression, anxiety, panic disorder (PD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), alcohol use disorder (AUD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and stress were completed. Participants were also asked about the number and type of traumatic events they had been exposed to, if they had ever thought about, planned, or attempted suicide, and if they had previous military experience. There were 4772 PSP who completed the entire survey; 631 indicated they had prior military experience.

What did we find out?

  • PSP with previous military experience had poorer results on the majority of screening tools for mental health disorders.
  • Those with military experience also reported greater symptom severity.
  • PSP who had served in the military reported more exposure to traumatic events, especially those involving death and serious injury.
  • PSP with previous military experience were more likely to have thought about suicide. There was no difference between the groups for lifetime suicide plans and attempts.
  • PSP with previous military experience–even after controlling for age, gender, and exposure to traumatic events.–were between 1.5 and 1.6 times more likely to report symptoms of PTSD, depression, anxiety, stress, PD, and suicidal thoughts.

Where do we go from here?

Cross-sectional survey studies are not able to determine causes. PSP with military experience may have higher rates of mental health disorder symptoms because of their previous service. However, more studies are needed to explore factors like the nature and length of military service, or the reasons for leaving the military, to further understand the relationships seen in this study. The differences between those who have previously served in the military and other PSP suggested in this study illustrate the potential need for additional training and support when recruiting former military members for a PSP career.


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

Original Study

Groll, D.L., Ricciardelli, R., Carleton, R.N., Anderson, G. Cramm, H. (2020). A cross-sectional study of the relationship between previous military experience and mental health disorders in currently serving public safety personnel in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 65(5) 330-337.

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B. & Groll, D.

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