Mental health is a significant problem among police officers around the world according to a study

Mental health and substance abuse problems are common among police officers, and more must be done to address these problems, investigators say.

Previous studies have suggested that rescue workers are at higher risk of mental health problems than the general public, but it was unclear how this affected police officers.

The researchers reviewed 67 studies involving more than 272,000 police officers from 24 countries to find out more. Most of the studies were from North America (46 per cent), Europe (28 per cent) and Australia (10 per cent), and involved mostly male police officers discharging general duties.

Just under 26 per cent tested positive for hazardous alcohol consumption, and 5 per cent would be considered alcohol dependent or drinking at harmful levels.

One in seven met the criteria for a post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, and about one in ten met the criteria for an anxiety disorder or had suicidal ideation.

Low levels of peer support, high job stress levels, and negative coping strategies were all potent risk factors for poor mental health. According to the study, the same was valid for being a woman, which was published in the May 21 online edition of the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

“Police officers show a substantial burden of mental health problems, emphasising the need for effective interventions and monitoring programmes,” wrote the researchers, from University College London. Jo Billings of the Division of Psychiatry led the review.

Otherwise, “psychological difficulties will remain a substantial mental health problem among police officers”, they added.

But, they said that there is no general consensus on what should be done to help police officers without adequate evidence.

“More research is needed on interventions that address stress and peer support in policing, which take into account gender and cultural differences,” they wrote. “The results support the allocation of more funding to police welfare initiatives, corresponding to those already offered to other high-risk populations.