Suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts among public safety personnel in Canada

Primary Investigator: Dr. R. Nicholas Carleton
CIPSRT Designations(s): Scientific Director
Publication Project Title: Suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts among public safety personnel in Canada

Public Safety Categories:

  • Career Fire and Rescue
  • Correctional Service of Canada
  • Dispatcher and Call Centre Operations
  • Municipal Police
  • Paramedics (ACP/PCP/CCP), Emergency Medical Services
  • Provincial Police
  • Provincial/Territorial Corrections
  • RCMP
  • Volunteer Fire and Rescue
REB Approval?: Yes
REB Approval Date: June 30, 2016
Study Data Collection Start Date: September 1, 2016
Study Data Collection End Date: March 31, 2017
Geographic Area(s) involved: Canada wide
Funding Sources: The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: R. Nicholas Carleton’s research is supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) through a New Investigator Award (FRN: 13666). Tracie O. Afifi’s research is supported by a CIHR New Investigator Award and Foundation Scheme Award. This research was funded in part by the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness through the Policy Development Contribution Program.
Study Phone: 306-337-2473
Study Email:
First responders and other public safety personnel put their lives on the line for their communities every day. Sometimes, they are injured in the course of their work. Those injuries can be to their mental health and can tragically end in suicide. Suicidal behaviours include thoughts, plans, and attempts, which can sometimes predict if a person may die by suicide. We wanted to understand how often public safety personnel in Canada are reporting suicidal behaviours and whether there are patterns that could help us identify who would be most at risk. Based on questions that Statistics Canada used in the 2011 Canadian Community Health Survey, we asked public safety personnel across the country to volunteer their experiences through their union, association, executive, and Ministry of Public Safety leaders. Over 5,000 public safety personnel participated in an anonymous, web-based survey. We looked at results based on past-year and lifetime reports. Over the past year, public safety personnel reported no differences in suicidal behaviours based on gender. Those who were single, separated, divorced, or widowed were more likely than married/common law to report suicidal thoughts and plans. Those living in Ontario and Quebec were less likely to report suicidal plans than those in Western Canada, and those who had university degrees were less likely to report suicidal thoughts than those with high school diplomas (or less). In terms of lifetime reports, women were more likely than men to report suicidal behaviours. Public safety personnel from 19 to 29 years of age were more likely to report planning and attempts than those in older groups. Similarly, participants with fewer years of service were more likely to report suicidal attempts than those with more years of service. There were differences across public safety personnel groups in both past-year and lifetime reports of suicidal behaviours; generally, firefighters, municipal police, provincial police, and RCMP were less likely to report difficulties than correctional officers and paramedics. Suicide is tragic and involves broad individual and societal costs. We owe a special duty of care to all those whose service places them at higher risk. The current results can help identify persons at increased risk, focus available resources, engage discussions about risk factors, and support improvements that can prevent such tragedies.
Additional Keywords: suicide; first responders; Public Safety Personnel; operational stress injuries; mental health
Status: Complete
Substantial media attention has focused on suicide among Canadian Public Safety Personnel (PSP; e.g., correctional workers, dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics, police). The attention has raised significant concerns about the mental health impact of public safety service, as well as interest in the correlates for risk of suicide. There have only been two published studies assessing lifetime suicidal behaviors among Canadian PSP. The current study was designed to assess past-year and lifetime suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts amongst a large diverse sample of Canadian PSP. Estimates of suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts were derived from self-reported data from a nationally administered online survey. Participants included 5,148 PSP (33.4% women) grouped into six categories (i.e., Call Centre Operators/Dispatchers, Correctional Workers, Firefighters, Municipal/Provincial Police, Paramedics, Royal Canadian Mounted Police). Substantial proportions of participants reported past-year and lifetime suicidal ideation (10.1%, 27.8%), planning (4.1%, 13.3%), or attempts (0.4%, 4.6%). Women reported significantly more lifetime suicidal behaviors than men (ORs = 1.15 to 2.62). Significant differences were identified across PSP categories in reports of past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviors. The proportion of Canadian PSP reporting past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviors was substantial. The estimates for lifetime suicidal behaviors appear consistent with or higher than previously published international PSP estimates, and higher than reports from the general population. Municipal/Provincial Police reported the lowest frequency for past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviors, whereas Correctional Workers and Paramedics reported the highest. The results provide initial evidence that substantial portions of diverse Canadian PSP experience suicidal behaviors, therein warranting additional resources and research. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)