Why was the study done?
In the general population, members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to experience mental health issues and engage in substance use than their straight peers. Public safety personnel (PSP) also experience higher levels of mental health issues and substance abuse than the general population. In both populations, LGBTQ+ and PSP, stigma in the workplace can contribute to mental health concerns.
So what happens to members of the LGBTQ+ community who are also PSP? The current study aimed to determine if PSP that also identify as LGBTQ+ experience more mental health concerns and substance use than their straight PSP co-workers.
What was done in the study?
A survey was sent out to police, ambulance, and fire and rescue workers from 29 agencies in Australia, with 14,536 employees participating. The survey included measures of psychological distress (including Anxiety and Depression), well-being (positive aspects of mental health), suicidal thoughts and behaviour (both lifetime and in the last 12 months), substance use, and a question about sexual orientation.
What did we find out?
- 3% of those surveyed identified as LGBTQ+.
- Those who identified as LGBTQ+ were more likely to be female and young.
- LGBTQ+ participants had higher levels of suicidal thoughts (both lifetime and in the past 12 months).
- LGBTQ+ members of fire and rescue were 3.5 times more likely to plan suicide at some point in their lives than their straight co-workers. They were also six times more likely to attempt suicide.
- LGBTQ+ members of fire and rescue also had higher rates of substance use than their straight co-workers. No difference was seen in ambulance and police services members.
- Compared to straight PSP, those PSP that identified as bisexual, pansexual, or unsure about their orientation reported higher rates of psychological distress, suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months, binge drinking four or more times a week, and illicit drug use in the past 12 months.
Where do we go from here?
This survey shows a difference in mental health between LGBTQ+ PSP and straight PSP. Further research is needed to determine if this is experienced in other countries and PSP professions beyond police, ambulance, and fire and rescue. The current study may have underestimated the LGBTQ+ population by asking specifically about identity; even with an anonymous survey, people may have been fearful to declare. Further research will be needed to determine the factors contributing to the higher levels of mental health issues seen in LGBTQ+ PSP. Through understanding, new procedures and policies can be developed to improve outcomes for LGBTQ+ PSP.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Kyron, M.J., McEvoy, P.M., Gilbey, D., Lin, A., Mazza, C., Rikkers, W., Bartlett, J., & Lawrence, D. (2021). Sexual orientation and prevalence of mental health difficulties among emergency services employees. Journal of Affective Disorders, 287, 240-246. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032721001506?via%3Dihub
Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Edited and Reviewed by Barootes, B.