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Research Summaries

When the uncertain is unavoidable

Keywords: Depression, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Uncertainty

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Why was the study done?

Public safety personnel’s (PSP) work involves uncertain, uncontrollable, and potentially psychologically traumatic events. The work environments of PSP can have an impact on their mental health. PSP are four times more likely to experience mental health disorder symptoms than those in the general population. Factors like intolerance of uncertainty (IU; worry about uncertain future events) and anxiety sensitivity (AS; fear of anxiety symptoms) have been associated with developing and maintaining mental health disorders. The goal of the current study is to:

  • Assess IU and AS across PSP, clinical, community and undergraduate student samples;
  • Examine the relationship between IU, AS, and mental health disorders in PSP.

What was done in the study?

PSP were recruited through their employers, organizations, or public announcements to participate in an online survey assessing mental health symptoms. Specifically, symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder (PD), and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), as well as their levels of AS and IU were measured. Over four thousand PSP completed the required measures. Data from previously published clinical and community studies on AS and IU were used to compare the groups.

What did we find out?

  • PSP without mental health disorder symptoms had the lowest IU and AS scores.
  • PSP with mental health disorder symptoms had lower IU and AS scores than participants in a previously studied clinical sample.
  • There was a significant relationship between IU and AS scores and mental health disorder symptoms.
  • A relationship existed between IU scores and mental health disorder symptoms and AS scores and mental health disorder symptoms when examined separately.
  • IU and AS were shown to be important factors, explaining 30% of the variability between those that had mental health disorder symptoms and those who did not.
  • PSP who identified as RCMP displayed the strongest relationship between IU, AS, and mental health disorder symptoms.

Where do we go from here?

The current study is limited by the general nature of a survey-based study. Clinical assessment of symptoms would be necessary to further understand the relationship between IU, AS, and mental health disorder symptoms. However, the data does provide interesting information. Since PSP display lower IU and AS levels than clinical samples from previous research, treatment approaches that are effective in typical clinical settings may not be effective for PSP. PSP who have mental health disorders may need more tailored interventions to address regular exposure to uncertainty and potential trauma.


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

Original Study: Angehrn, A., Krackauer, R.L., & Carleton, R.N. 2020. The impact of intolerance of uncertainty and anxiety sensitivity on mental health among public safety personnel: When the uncertain is unavoidable. Cognitive Therapy and Research, April 24, 2020. Doi:


Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Reviewed and Edited by Barootes, B. & Angehrn, A.

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