Objectives: Research indicates that suicide rates are high among members of law enforcement. Our objectives were: (1) to determine life events implicated in suicide mortality among French law enforcement; and (2) to describe the different life trajectories of police officers who deceased by suicide.
Methods: All suicides of police officers which occurred during 2008 (n=49) were explored using the psychological autopsy method. Key informants were: a supervisor, a colleague and a member of the family or a close friend. Each of them were interviewed by trained psychologists using standardized questionnaires exploring: sociodemographic characteristics, life events, social integration and support, health service use, mental health with the Composite International Diagnostic Interview short form (CIDI-SF), occupational stress with the Spielberger Inventory, impulsiveness with the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale and aggressiveness with the Brown-Goodwin Lifetime Aggression Scale. Information was then summarized in a timetable life trajectory of all life areas. All cases were finally appraised by at least two experts in order to identify the determinants of the suicide and to determine psychiatric diagnoses. For each period of time, a burdensomeness score was determined, from 6 (no adversity) to 1 (adversities in each sphere of life).
Results: Of the 49 cases of suicide, two were excluded and 39 were investigated and appraised (response rate: 39/47=83%). Eighty-two percent of the suicide cases were men and the mean age at death was 35years. In more than half of the cases, police officers used their service weapon to commit suicide. All deceased police officers were suffering from mental health symptoms (primarily depression). Of them, two thirds had used healthcare for this distress. The main other cause of suicide was problems in the married life (70% of the cases). Four distinct types of life trajectories of adversities could be identified by a qualitative analysis.
Discussion: It is the first time such a study was performed in France, and results are concordant with those of the literature. This study showed that all deceased police officers were suffering from mental disorders and that there was not one single profile of life trajectory: screening and support of police officers in distress need to be prioritized. Moreover, results suggested that the availability of the service weapon during off-duty periods should be reconsidered. This study helped the Home ministry to elaborate and improve strategies to prevent suicide among police officers.
Keywords: Autopsie psychologique; Life trajectory; Police; Psychological autopsy; Suicide; Trajectoire de vie.
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