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Research Summaries

Suicidal ideation, planning, and attempts among new RCMP cadets

Keywords: RCMP Study

Why was the study done?

A high proportion of serving Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) report having symptoms of mental health disorders such as Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), with half screening positive for one or more mental health disorders. PTSD and other mental health disorders are known to be associated with heightened risk of death by suicide. The current study provides the first estimates of recent suicidal ideation, planning and attempts, as well as and of lifetime suicide attempts by RCMP cadets starting the Cadet Training Program (CTP).

Understanding the prevalence of suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) and behaviour (planning and attempts) among cadets at the point they begin training provides a useful benchmark against which further research can compare changes to mental health that may occur throughout their careers as RCMP officers.

What was done in the study?

The current research draws on data from a larger, 10-year RCMP study designed to develop, deploy, and assess the impact of skills taught to help protect members from Posttraumatic Stress Injuries (PTSI). A research summary of the previously published Study Protocol can be read here.

From May 2019 to October 2021, a total of 736 cadets completed clinical interviews, which included assessment of past-month suicidal thoughts and behaviours, as well as lifetime suicide attempts. Of the 736 participants, 699 cadets also completed a full survey that included self-reported demographic data, such as age, sex, education, marital status, and province of residence.

The cadet data were compared to data on lifetime suicidal thoughts and behaviours among serving RCMP members and the general population. The data collection methods and timeframe differ too much for direct comparison, but the results provided a useful context for examining the prevalence of suicidal ideation and behaviours among cadets at the start of the CTP.

What did we find out?

Most cadets did not report experiencing suicidal ideation or behaviours. Very few participating cadets reported past-month suicidal ideation (1.6%). No cadets (0%) reported past-month suicidal planning or a past-month suicide attempt (0%). Cadets’ lifetime data was only collected for suicide attempts, of which very few were reported (1.5%).

Keeping in mind the limitations of the comparison, cadets reported fewer suicide attempts than the Canadian general population and serving RCMP. Data from the Canadian general population indicate the prevalence of lifetime suicidal ideation (11.8%), planning (4.0%), and attempts (3.1–3.5%). Previous data from serving RCMP indicate a lifetime prevalence of suicidal ideation (25.7%), planning (11.2%), and attempts (2.4%).

Where do we go from here?

The current results are the first estimates of recent suicidal ideation and planning, and of lifetime suicide attempts by RCMP cadets starting training in the CTP.

The data indicate low levels of suicidal behaviours among cadets. The contrast between the low prevalence of suicidal ideation and behaviours among RCMP cadets and the increased rates reported by serving RCMP suggests occupational stressors may have a substantial impact on RCMP mental health. Further research is required to better understand these differences and what career stages and factors may increase suicidal ideation and behaviour.

The results help to continue advancing Canada’s first-ever National Action Plan on Post-Traumatic Stress Injuries, including additional investment to support the health and well-being of first responders and other public safety personnel.

The RCMP Study is supported by the RCMP, the Government of Canada and the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness. L. Lix is supported by a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Methods for Electronic Health Data Quality. T. O. Afifi is supported by a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Childhood Adversity and Resilience. S. H. Stewart is supported by a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Addictions and Mental Health. The current article’s development, analyses and distribution was supported by a generous grant from the Medavie Foundation, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

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

Read the Full Article

Original Study
Nisbet, J., Jamshidi, L., Maguire, K. Q., Afifi, T. O., Brunet, A., Fletcher, A. J., Asmundson, G. J. G., Sareen, J., Shields, R. E., Andrews, K., Sauer-Zavala, S., Neary, J. P., Lix, L., Krätzig, G. P., & Carleton, R. N. Suicidal Ideation, Planning, and Attempts Among new Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cadets. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 2023; 0(0). doi:10.1177/07067437221149469

Prepared by K. Vincent

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