Prevalence and predictors of suicidal thoughts and behaviours among Australian police and emergency services employees

This study, published in the Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, aimed to address the shortage of studies assessing suicidal thoughts and behaviours among emergency personnel or first responders in Australia.

The study drew on findings from the first national survey of Australian police, fire, ambulance and other emergency services personnel called ‘Answering the Call,’ funded by Beyond Blue and the largest survey of its kind to date. worldwide. Relationships were assessed between suicidal thoughts and behaviours and a variety of personal (for example, mental health conditions, resilience, substance use) and workplace (for example, perceived bullying, support, stigma) factors. The analysis also examined which factors differentiate those who think about suicide from those who act on their suicidal thoughts.

It found that perceptions of stigma regarding mental health conditions from others in the workplace, bullying, negative impacts of work on one’s private life and low meaning of work were associated with suicidal thoughts, while bullying was also a risk factor for planning and attempting suicide. Higher resilience and social support were associated with lower suicidal thoughts, while intermittent explosive anger and illegal drug use were associated with higher rates of suicidal thoughts. Post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms significantly differentiated who planned suicide, while misuse of prescription drugs and psychological distress differentiated those who attempted suicide from those who reported suicidal thoughts.

“This research provides a more comprehensive description of risk and protective factors for suicidal thoughts and behaviours, showing significantly elevated risk for a number of these factors,” said Professor of Work, Health & Wellbeing and Director of the Institute’s Determinants of Health research domain, Tony LaMontagne, whose collaboration with University of Western Australia and Beyond Blue authors on this study grew out of his service on the Advisory Committee for Beyond Blue’s National Police and Emergency Services Program.

“Modifiable risk and protective factors should be targeted in preventive interventions, complemented by reactive interventions needed to support those in distress,” Professor LaMontagne said.

This aligns with the ‘integrated approach’ Professor LaMontagne has developed over several years with the police and emergency services sector as well as in other work contexts, and which has been adapted in practice by Beyond Blue, Worksafe Victoria, the World Health Organisation, and others.

The project team for this study included Professor LaMontagne, and colleagues Michael J Kyron, Wavne Rikkers, Andrew Page, Jennifer Bartlett and David Lawrence from University of Western Australia and Patrice O’Brien from Beyond Blue.