Experts say mental health issues among police officers are a major concern.

New data shows around 1 in 4 police officers are potentially drinking at hazardous levels and around 1 in 7 meeting the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.

The researchers suggest the high prevalence of mental health issues among the police emphasises the need for effective treatment and monitoring programmes as well as extra cash to match the preventive efforts offered to other high risk groups.

Analysis by experts at Oxford University shows that first responders run a higher risk of mental health issues than the general public. However, it is unclear how common mental health issues are among police officers, or what the risk factors for these might be.

This is despite the fact that the nature of their work means that the police are uniquely exposed to extreme violence and death while often running the gauntlet of public distrust and disparagement, say the researchers.

The team pooled data from 67 studies that each involved at least 100 active police professionals and the use of validated measures to assess specific aspects of mental ill health.

Together, the created a dataset on a total of 272,463 police officers from 24 countries and covered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance misuse, anxiety disorder, and suicidal thoughts (ideation).

The estimated prevalence of mental health issues among police officers was substantial, and more than double the rate reported in several previously published studies.

Around 26 per cent of police officers screened positive for hazardous drinking, while one in seven met the criteria for PTSD (14 per cent) or depression (14.5 per cent).

Around one in 10 met the criteria for anxiety disorder (9.5 per cent) and suicidal thoughts (8.5 per cent), while one in 20 (5 per cent) would be considered to be drinking at harmful levels or to be alcohol dependent.

Low levels of peer support, higher levels of job stress, and poor (avoidant) coping strategies were all strong risk factors for mental health issues, the data analysis suggested. Female sex was also a consistent risk factor for poorer mental health.

“Police officers show a substantial burden of mental health problems, emphasising the need for effective interventions and monitoring programmes,” the authors wrote.

Otherwise, “psychological difficulties will remain a substantial health concern among police,” they concluded.

A major problem, however, is that in the absence of good evidence no one can agree on what these interventions should be.

“Further research into interventions that address stress and peer support in the police is needed, taking into account risk differences between genders and cultures,” the research says.

“The results support increased funding initiatives for police wellbeing to match preventative efforts currently offered in other high-risk populations.”

The study is accessible here.