Researchers find significantly higher rate of mental disorders among first responders

August 31, 2017

Results from Canada's first national survey looking at operational stress injuries among first responders such as police, paramedics, firefighters and 911 operators suggest they are much more likely to develop a mental disorder than the general population.

The research was conducted online between September 2016 and January 2017 by a group of mental health experts from across the country. It is published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Of the 5,813 participants, 44.5 per cent "screened positive for clinically significant symptom clusters consistent with one or more mental disorders."

Statistics Canada has reported that the rate for the general population is 10 per cent.

"It's higher, and, surprisingly higher," said University of Regina psychology professor Nick Carleton, who led the team of researchers.

The research team also found women were more likely than men to screen as positive for a mental disorder, especially among firefighters.

"It may be that women experience these kinds of careers differently than men, it may be that women are more likely to report than men. It may be that there's another variable that we have failed to identify entirely at this point that causes or explains some of the differences between men and women." Carleton told CBC News.

Symptoms increase over time

Symptoms of operational stress injuries also appear to increase with more years of service and more exposure to traumatic events.

Those who reported being single were significantly more likely to report symptoms than those with a significant other and that despite having tough jobs with lots of shift work, "the divorce rates for correctional officers, police and firefighters are comparable to or lower than the general population."

The survey also suggests an unexplained regional difference. Respondents from Eastern Canada were less likely to report mental health problems than those west of Ontario.

Read more: Researchers find significantly higher rate of mental disorders among first responders