Background: Frequent exposure to traumatic situations put police officers under an increased risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The goals of this study were to determine the current prevalence of post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSS) in Brazilian police officers and to compare groups with and without PTSS in terms of associated morbidity.
Methods: Police officers from an elite unit (n=157) were asked to fill out a socio-demographic questionnaire, the 12-item General Health Questionnaire and the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist-Civilian Version. The latter's scores were used to establish the diagnoses of "full PTSD" and of "partial PTSD".
Results: Prevalence rates of "full PTSD" and "partial PTSD" were 8.9% and 16%, respectively. Compared with the "no PTSD" group, police officers with "full PTSD" were five times more likely to be divorced (21.6% vs. 4.3%, p=0.008), felt that their physical health was poorer (64.3% vs. 6%, p<0.001), had more medical consultations during the last 12 months [2.00 (+/-1.62) vs. 1.09 (+/-1.42), p=0.03] and reported more often lifetime suicidal ideation (35.7% vs. 5.2%, p=0.002).
Limitations: The sample was relatively small. A screening tool was employed instead of a semi-structured interview. The cross-sectional design is unsuitable for ascertaining cause-effect relations.
Conclusions: PTSD prevalence in our sample was comparable to those reported for North American and Dutch policemen. The presence of "full PTSD" was associated with evidences of considerable morbidity. These findings may contribute to the development of effective policies aimed at the prevention and treatment of PTSD in law enforcement agents.