Behind blue doors: cisgender female police officers' experiences of psychological stress and mental health

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Bourassa Rabichuk, Susan
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The purpose of this study was to identify and describe how female police officers experience psychological stress, what elements or factors impacted their experiences of psychological stress, and why psychological stress was experienced within their employment as officers. It explored the impacts of psychological stress on overall mental health. Critical realist theory informed the multiple case study design that revealed generative mechanisms capable of producing the participants’ lived experiences. The data were collected from semi-structured interviews with 14 cis-gender female police officers employed within 10 Canadian policing organizations across 11 diverse geographical locations. Additional data sources (grey literature, newspaper articles, a documentary) were analyzed as well. Thematic analysis was completed through which five themes were revealed: moral toll, procedural injustice, mental health impacts, mental health support/promotion, and mentorship, interpersonal relationships, and shared experience. A critical realist framework highlighting anti-oppressive and feminist concepts was used to analyze the data related to the identified themes. The results suggested that cis-gendered female police officers’ psychological stress experiences occurred due to complex and compounding interactions between various system levels (macro, meso, and micro), each containing intricate entities of its own. Patriarchal ideology and continued measures intended to preserve male domination over females were the mechanisms that generated much of the women’s stress and mental health problems. Theoretical contributions include the application and elaboration of anti-oppressive concepts to a new setting, a police context. This inclusion helps provide a solid rationale for integrating both anti-oppressive and gendered lenses when designing, implementing, and evaluating policies and programming to ensure that the needs of policewomen are accurately represented and included. Such inclusion may help mitigate oppressive aspects and practices and prevent harm from occurring where possible. The findings also suggest the need for policing organizations to assess and interview potential therapist candidates to ensure they possess such knowledge and provide members with a list of suitable options. Future studies could include a more racially and sexually diverse group of participants, both on active duty and retired, to explore their experiences of psychological stress and mental health impacts.
Police, Policewomen, Female police officers, Law enforcement, Mental health, Psychological stress, Psychological stress responses, Stress, Stress symptoms, Critical realism, Multiple case study, Occupational health, Psychological safety, Organizational stress, Harassment, Police culture, Masculine police culture