Widespread Penetrance of Mental Illness Symptoms Among Police Officers in the United States

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There have been limited studies among police officers investigating characterized patterns of mental illnesses and barriers in seeking mental health.

Researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center found that few police officers sought mental health care despite interest. These results, from a survey study, were published in JAMA Network Open.

The ninth largest police department in the United States, the Dallas Police Department (DPD), participated in this study. Current DPD officers (N=434) were invited to participate between January 1 and February 27 2020. Officers self-reported mental illness diagnoses and were assessed by the Patient Health Questionnaire 2, the Generalized Anxiety Disorder 2 screening tool, and the Primary Care Posttraumatic Stress Disorder for Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition).

The participating officers represented 31% of the total police force. Surveyed officers were aged mean 37 (standard deviation [SD], 10) years, 82% were men, 50% were White, 55% were married, 51% were college graduates, and 24% were military veterans.

Among all surveyed officers, 12% self-reported some mental illness diagnosis during their lifetime, 48% of which were current diagnoses. The assessments found 26% of officers reached the clinical classification for mental illness symptoms during the previous 2 weeks. Post-traumatic stress disorder (61%) and depression (44%) were most commonly observed.

During the previous 12 months, 35% of officers reported seeking services for their mental health which included 17% of those who screened positive for mental illness symptoms.

Women were more likely to have a lifetime mental illness (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 3.20; 95% CI, 1.18-8.68), as were officers who were divorced or widowed (AOR, 3.52; 95% CI, 1.35-9.19) or in an unmarried couple (AOR, 3.64; 95% CI,1.07-12.33 ) compared with those who were married. Veterans (AOR, 3.25; 95% CI, 1.35-9.19), officers who had more than 15-years on the force (AOR, 7.42; 95% CI, 1.02-54.01), and those in supervisory roles (AOR, 3.12; 95% CI, 1.02-9.55) were more likely to have a mental illness diagnosis.

Officers who screened positive for symptoms of a mental illness during the previous 2 weeks were more likely to be military veterans (AOR, 3.46; 95% CI, 1.87-6.40) and compared with newer officers, to have between 5 and 10 years (AOR, 3.05; 95% CI, 1.42-6.54) or between 10 and 15 years (AOR, 3.10; 95% CI, 1.18-8.14) of experience with DPD.

Among officers who reported interest in seeking services for their mental health and had screened positive for symptoms of mental illness, these individuals were more likely to report self-harm behaviors or suicidal ideation (AOR, 7.66; 95% CI, 1.70-34.48).

Potential limitations of this study were that only 1 police department was surveyed, which may limit generalizability of these results and the fact that survey participants differed significantly for some demographic features compared with the entire DPD.

These data indicated that although symptoms of mental illness were present among police officers, few sought help with mental health services. Further studies are needed to clearly define which interventions are required and how to tailor intervention strategies for police officers in the United States.


Jetelina KK, Molsberry RJ, Gonzalez JR, et al. Prevalence of mental illness and mental health care use among police officers. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(10):e2019658. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.19658.