November 26, 2018
2 min read

Exposure to police violence linked to mental health symptoms

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Jordan DeVylder

Police violence may be associated with mental health disparities, especially among racial/ethnic and sexual minorities living in urban areas, according to study findings.

Specifically, 12-month police violence exposure was linked to greater likelihood of experiencing mental health issues, including psychological distress, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and psychotic experiences, according to the study published in JAMA Network Open.

“Although research on fatalities by police has benefited from crowd-sourced attempts to comprehensively document these incidents, awareness of nonfatal incidents is dependent on self-reported data from civilians, which has only recently been systematically collected,” Jordan E. DeVylder, PhD, Graduate School of Social Service, Fordham University, and colleagues wrote. “Among these efforts, few studies have assessed the association of mental health with nonfatal police violence exposures. This assessment is needed to develop comprehensive public health interventions aimed at preventing police violence and its mental health consequences.”

In this cross-sectional, general population survey study, researchers examined the relationship between 12-month exposure to police violence and concurrent mental health symptoms among 1,000 adults residing in Baltimore and New York City.

The investigators examined 12-month exposure to police violence via the Police Practices Inventory. Subtypes of violence included physical, sexual, psychological and neglectful. They measured participants’ Current Kessler Screening Scale for Psychological Distress (K6) score, past-year psychotic experiences (via the WHO Composite International Diagnostic Interview) and past-year suicidal ideation and attempts.

The researchers reported that the 12-month prevalence of police violence was 3.2% for sexual violence, 4.6% for physical violence with a weapon, 7.5% for physical violence without a weapon, 13.2% for psychological violence and 14.9% for neglect. Men, racial/ethnic minorities, and people who identified as gay or transgender were exposed to a higher prevalence of police violence, according to the results. Police violence exposure was linked with mental health symptoms, with respondents reporting suicidal ideation (9.1%), suicide attempts (3.1%) and psychotic experiences (20.6%).

Adjusted logistic regression analyses revealed that all mental health outcomes were related to exposure to police violence.

DeVylder and colleagues observed large effect sizes for the associations between psychological distress and all assaultive police exposures, and all except for psychological violence remained statistically significant in the adjusted analyses. Physical violence with a weapon and sexual violence had the largest effect sizes for suicide attempts, suicidal ideation and psychotic experiences, the results showed.

“This information may be useful for policy makers in determining interventions to reduce the rate of police violence exposures, particularly in underserved communities,” DeVylder and colleagues wrote. “Future research is needed to understand causal pathways between police violence and mental health symptoms to better inform clinical responses to individuals with experiences of police violence.” – by Savannah Demko

Disclosure: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.