Background: Police work is regarded as a high-stress occupation, but so far, no nationwide study has explored the associations between work stress and health.
Aims: To explore physical and mental health among Norwegian police and associations to job stress. Comparisons were made with a nationwide sample of Norwegian physicians and the general Norwegian population.
Methods: Comprehensive nationwide questionnaire survey of 3,272 Norwegian police at all hierarchical levels, including the Norwegian Police Stress Survey with two factors (serious operational tasks and work injuries), the Job Stress Survey with two factors (job pressure and lack of support), the Basic Character Inventory, the Subjective Health Complaint questionnaire, the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, the Maslach Burnout Inventory, and Paykel's Suicidal Feelings in the General Population.
Results: The frequency of job pressure and lack of support was mainly associated to physical and mental health problems. Females showed higher means on anxiety symptoms than males (4.2, SD 2.9 and 3.7, SD 2.9, respectively; p < 0.01), while males showed higher means on depressive symptoms (3.1, SD 2.9 and 2.4, SD 2.5, respectively; p < 0.001). Police reported more subjective health complaints, depersonalization and higher scores on three of four personality traits than physicians, but lower scores on anxiety and depressive symptoms than the general population.
Conclusion: This is the first nationwide study to explore job stress and physical and mental health in police. The results indicate that Norwegian police have high levels of musculoskeletal health problems mainly associated to the frequency of job pressure and lack of support. However, also frequent exposure to work injuries was associated to health problems. This may indicate that daily routine work as well as police operational duties must be taken into consideration in assessing job stress and police health.