Suicidal Ideation, Plans, and Attempts Among Public Safety Personnel in Canada

Why this report is important:

This study shows that suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts have been a common occurrence in public safety personnel, including police officers. To extrapolate these results, if approximately 10% of the RCMP will experience suicidal thoughts in the past year, that is approximately 1800 police officers. Also, out of the approximately 18,000 regular RCMP officers, nearly 5000 will experience suicidal thoughts during their career. Also, based on these statistics we can approximate that 738 RCMP officers have a plan of suicide or have made a plan to kill themselves within the past year. We know that people can experience suicidal thoughts without actually dying by suicide. We also know through additional research that people who survive suicide attempts usually realize immediately after their attempt that they do not want to die, but that they want their pain to end. Suicide has been a problem within policing culture for decades, but I believe that through psychological education, we can reduce and prevent suicides.

Study details:

Total of 8,520 people began the survey out of an estimated 250,000 Canadian public safety personnel. 5,148 people completed enough of the survey to be asked about suicide. Civilian members and sworn members reported rates that were considered statistically similar and were combined into one statistic.


This paper was focused on assessing the rates of suicidal thoughts, plans and actions of Canadian public safety personnel (which includes correctional workers, dispatchers, firefighters, paramedics and police officers). The results were shocking for me to read and will likely also shock you with how common it is for police officers and other similar professions to consider, plan and act on suicide, which they attribute may be, in part, related to the frequent exposure to traumatic events.

Stigma and access to professional psychological help:

People with suicidal thoughts are less likely to seek treatment than others, even though it is clear that they need help. One of the barriers to them receiving care, is their perception of stigma, that they will be judged by their peers for being weak. I believe that we can increase people getting help when they need it, by reducing that stigma.

Rates of police officers with suicidal thoughts:

Previous research estimated that the rate of police officers who were currently suicidal or had been within the past year, was between 7.4% and 8.8%.

Additional risks for all public safety personnel:

  • Less fear of death because of exposure to danger and death
  • More compromised social supports
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Easy access to lethal means (especially firearms)

All study participants suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts:

Past year: Lifetime:
Suicidal thoughts:
Plan of suicide:
Suicide attempts

Additional factors:

Women reported a higher rate of lifetime suicidal thoughts than men, but men die by suicide at a higher rate than women, which is consistent with research in the general population. People who were either married or common law also reported lower rates of suicidal behaviours. Separation or divorce increases the risk of suicide for both men and women. Older participants reported the same rates of suicidal thoughts but had lower rates of making plans or suicide attempts.

Risk factors:

Public safety personnel are at greater risk for chronic exposure to traumatic events and they may be experiencing substantial levels of clinical mental health disorders. This study also lists organizational stressors such as low control at work, high work demands without sufficient resources and lack of supervisor support may be contributing factors. From my personal anecdotal experience and observations, all three of those factors can be common in some policing subcultures and highly detrimental to the mental health of the employees.                


This study highlights that suicidal thoughts, suicidal plans and suicidal actions in public safety personnel, including police officers, are relatively high both within the past 12 months and during someone’s lifetime. However, I believe that through more education and awareness, we can prevent more of these suicides from happening. Suicidal thoughts are transitory in nature, meaning that people can experience suicidal thoughts without acting on them. We also know from the experience of many survivors of suicide attempts that immediately after attempting suicide, most people will experience regret and a strong will to survive. I believe that all public safety personnel should be taught these lessons in training, prior to their exposures to trauma and organizational stress, with a vision to decrease public safety personnel suicides in the future, through prevention and education. 

The list of authors of this article is:
R. Nicholas Carleton, Tracie O. Afifi, Sarah Turner, Tamara Taillieu, Daniel M. LeBouthillier, Sophie Duranceau, Jitender Sareen, Rosemary Ricciardelli, Renée S. MacPhee, Dianne Groll, Kadie Hozempa, Alain Brunet, John R. Weekes, Curt T. Griffiths, Kelly J. Abrams, Nicholas A. Jones, Shadi Beshai, Heidi A. Cramm, Keith S. Dobson, Simon Hatcher, Terence M. Keane, Sherry H. Stewart, Gordon J. G. Asmundson

Suicidal Ideation, Plans, and Attempts Among Public Safety Personnel in Canada