Objectives. Law and order enforcement tasks may expose special force police officers to significant psychosocial risk factors. The aim of this work is to investigate the relationship between job stress and the presence of mental health symptoms while controlling for socio-demographical, occupational and personality variables in special force police officers. Method: At different time points, 292 out of 294 members of the 'VI Reparto Mobile', a special police force engaged exclusively in the enforcement of law and order, responded to our invitation to complete questionnaires for the assessment of personality traits, work-related stress (using the demand-control-support (DCS) and the effort-reward-imbalance (ERI) models), and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and burnout. Results: Regression analyses showed that lower levels of support and reward and higher levels of effort and overcomittment were associated with higher levels of mental health symptoms. Psychological screening revealed 21 (7.3%) likely cases of mild depression (BDI ≥10). Officers who had experienced a discrepancy between work effort and rewards showed a marked increase in the risk of depression (OR 7.89 95%CI 2.32-26.82) when compared with their counterparts who did not perceive themselves to be in a condition of distress. Conclusions: The findings of this study suggest that self-reported work-related stress may play a role in the development of mental health problems in police officers. The prevalence of mental health symptoms in the cohort investigated here was low, but not negligible in the case of depression. Since special forces police officers have to perform sensitive tasks for which a healthy psychological functioning is needed, the results of this study suggest that steps should be taken to prevent distress and improve the mental well-being of these workers.
- effort-reward imbalance, depression, distress, job strain, mental health, over-commitment, police, social support, work-related stress.