Mental health screening amongst police officers: factors associated with under-reporting of symptoms.

Affiliation

Marshall RE(1), Milligan-Saville J(1)(2), Petrie K(1)(2), Bryant RA(2)(3), Mitchell PB(1)(2), Harvey SB(4).
Author information:
(1)School of Psychiatry, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia.
(2)Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales, Hospital Rd, Randwick, 2031, Australia.
(3)School of Psychology, University of New South Wales, Sydney, 2052, Australia.
(4)Black Dog Institute, University of New South Wales, Hospital Rd, Randwick, 2031, Australia. [Email]

Abstract

BACKGROUND: Mental health screening in the workplace aims to identify employees who are becoming symptomatic, in order to provide timely support and evidence-based interventions to those affected. Given the stigma associated with mental illness, accurate disclosure of mental health symptoms cannot be assumed. The present study sought to investigate factors associated with the accurate reporting of mental health symptoms amongst police officers. METHODS: A total of 90 serving police officers completed identical mental health screening surveys, one administered by the employer and the other anonymously by an independent organisation. Responses were then linked to compare differences in the number and severity of mental health symptoms reported on each questionnaire. RESULTS: Comparisons of matched self-report scores indicated that employees under-reported symptoms of mental health disorders when completing screening administered by their employer, with only 76.3% of symptoms declared. Under-reporting occurred regardless of gender and symptom type. Less senior staff (p = 0.05) and those with the most severe post-traumatic stress disorder and common mental disorder symptoms (p = 0.008) were significantly more likely to under-report symptoms. CONCLUSIONS: Employer-administered mental health screening is not able to accurately capture all mental health symptoms amongst first responders. The fact that the severity of symptoms predicted the level of under-reporting means that simple changes to cut-off values cannot correct this problem.