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Research Summaries

Working in law enforcement: Is there a difference between civilians and officers when it comes to mental health?

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Why was the study done?

Research has demonstrated that public safety personnel (PSP), including police, are at a high risk for mental health disorders compared to the general public. Recently, the role of civilians in PSP organizations has been expanding. Currently, 30% of all law enforcement personnel in Canada are civilians.

Though civilian workers can be indirectly exposed to potentially traumatic events through reviewing reports or organizing photos and data or have direct exposure such as communicators who take emergency calls, they are not always provided the same mental health focused training and education as officers. A few studies have demonstrated similar patterns of mental health injuries between civilians and officers, but the research is limited.

The aim of the current study is to compare law enforcement civilians and officers on issues including mental health disorders, perceived barriers to care, and help-seeking.

What was done in the study?

Data for this study was taken from a larger online survey. Participants answered a series of self-report questions about mental health, mental health training, access to mental health resources, and willingness to use mental health resources. All the participants were from one Ontario law enforcement organization: 80 civilians and 112 officers completed the survey.

What did we find out?

  • More civilians reported having mental health disorders than officers did.
  • Levels of help-seeking and willingness to get help were similar between civilians and officers, but there was a big difference where they looked for help. Officers were accessing organizational supports like a colleague, peer support, occupational nurse, or psychiatrist, while civilians sought help online.
  • Civilians were more likely to report that they didn’t know where to get mental health support.
  • The three main barriers for help-seeking were the same between both groups: concerns about privacy, fear of negative career impact, and stigma.
  • Officers reported higher levels of resilience compared to civilians.
  • A quarter of both the civilian and officer groups felt their resilience had decreased since working in a law enforcement organization.
  • Females reported lower levels of resilience.
  • Civilians reported less mental health knowledge and more mental health stigma.

Where do we go from here?

Though the results are in a small sample from one law enforcement organization, they do provide food for thought. This study adds evidence to the research that shows civilians in law enforcement report higher rates of mental health disorders compared to officers. This information is important for organizations to consider as the ranks of civilian employees continues to grow. Law enforcement organizations should consider extending services and programs offered to officers to the civilian workers in their organizations. This extension of service may help improve mental health for the civilian workers, and it would limit any feeling that civilians and officers have different value to the organization.

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


Original Study

Martin, K., Siddiqui, A., Ricciardelli., R., Lentz, L. & Carleton, R.N. (2021). Differences in mental health, help-seeking and barriers to care between civilians and sworn members working in law enforcement: A research note. Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology.

Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B. & Martin, K.

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