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Research Summaries

Understanding Suicide in Public Safety Personnel in Canada

Keywords: Mental Health, Public Safety Personnel (PSP), Suicide

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Why was the study done?

Many public safety personnel (PSP) experience significant symptoms of one or more mental health disorders (e.g., posttraumatic stress disorder [PTSD], Major Depressive Disorder) and recent media attention on suicide among PSP has increased concerns about the effect of public service on the mental health of PSP.

Previous studies on suicide among Canadian PSP were limited (i.e., there were only two studies, and both focused on police and no other sectors of PSP). The previous studies also focused on deaths by suicide, not on suicidal thoughts, planning, or attempts.

What was done in the study?

The study was designed to provide initial estimates of past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviour (defined here as thoughts, plans, and attempts) amongst a diverse group of Canadian PSP. Participants were surveyed using a web-based self-report featuring basic yes or no questions based on questions previously used by Statistics Canada. Over 5,000 PSP completed enough of the survey to be included in the analysis.

What did we find out?

  • Younger PSP (under 30) were more likely to report suicidal behaviours, both in the past year and throughout their lifetimes.
  • Single or divorced/widowed PSP were more likely to report suicidal behaviours than their married/common-law counterparts.
  • Women PSP reported higher levels of suicidal behaviours over their lifetimes.
  • A higher number of PSP service years was associated with decreased lifetime suicidal behaviours.
  • Paramedics, correctional workers, and public safety communications officials (e.g. call centre operators, dispatchers) reported higher levels of suicidal behaviours than their PSP counterparts in policing and firefighting.
  • Levels of suicidal behaviour were higher among PSP than the general public.

Where do we go from here?

The current results underscore the need for increasingly broad strategies to successfully manage suicidal behaviour in PSP personnel; however, future studies should attempt to replicate the current results using different methods (e.g., clinical interviews). The research results are ultimately intended to help efforts to reduce the risk of death by suicide among PSP.

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

Original Study

Carleton, R. N., Afifi, T.O., Turner, S., Taillieu, T., LeBouthiller, D.M., Duranceau, S., Sareen, J., Ricciardelli, R., MacPhee, R. S., Groll, D., Hozempa, K., Brunet, A., Weekes, J. R., Griffiths, C. T., Abrams, K.J., Jones, N. A., Beshai, S., Cramm, H. A., Dobson, K. S., Hatcher, S., Keane, T. M., Stewart, S. H., & Asmundson, G. J. G. (2018). Suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts among public safety personnel in Canada. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 59(3), 220-231. doi: 10.1037/cap0000136

Summary prepared by: Kossick, E., September 2019.

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