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A National Study of Police Mental Health in the USA: Stigma, Mental Health and Help-Seeking Behaviors

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Abstract

Policing is a high risk, high stress occupation involving repeated exposure to distressing situations. High levels of emotional and physical exhaustion lead to increased prevalence of psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety. Mental health stigma is prevalent among police and is one of the most significant barriers to seeking mental health services. The current study contributes to the limited body of existing empirical research examining stigmatization and help-seeking behavior in policing. The research involves a nationwide study of USA law enforcement personnel, giving a snapshot of mental health stigma on a large scale and with national representation. It was found that over 90% of officers perceive stigma as negatively influencing help-seeking behavior. Even when officers do seek help and find it effective, stigma remains at alarmingly high levels and is not reduced by help-seeking behaviors. This study has important implications for police agencies. Regardless of the efforts of police agencies in increasing mental health literacy and offering greater and better access to mental health services, if stigma remains, such efforts will be rendered ineffective, or at the very least, severely limited.

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Acknowledgments

The authors would like to acknowledge the support of the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) Television Network in the data collection phase of the research.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline M. Drew.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent (voluntary and anonymous survey data collection only) was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Drew, J.M., Martin, S. A National Study of Police Mental Health in the USA: Stigma, Mental Health and Help-Seeking Behaviors. J Police Crim Psych 36, 295–306 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-020-09424-9

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-020-09424-9

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