Coping, stress and suicide ideation in the South African Police Service
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A productive and healthy police force is important for the economic growth and stability and the development of a country. In South Africa, various potential stressors, such as a high crime level. organisational transformation and a lack of resources challenge members of the police services. Increased rates of illness, post-traumatic stress, burnout, alcohol abuse and suicides, as well as decreased levels of job satisfaction and job performance as compared to norms for the general population are found in research with police members. The number of suicides in the South African Police Service (SAPS) is more than five times that of suicide rates reported in the literature for other police populations. Suicide ideation constitutes one aspect of suicidal behaviour. Suicide ideation, which refers to the thoughts and cognitions about suicidal behaviour and intent, may be considered an early marker of more serious suicidal behaviour. However, there is a lack of empirical research systematically investigating suicide ideation and possible correlates thereof in South Africa. This research investigated the relationship between suicide ideation, stress and coping in the SAPS. The aim of this research was to determine national levels of suicide ideation, stress and coping and the differences between various demographic groups (race, rank, province, language group and size of station). Further aims included the validation of a measure of stress and coping in the SAPS. The research method for each of the four articles consists of a brief literature review and an empirical study. A cross-sectional survey design was used. Random samples (N = 2396 for research articles 1 and 2, and N = 1431 for research articles 3 and 4) were taken from police stations in nine provinces. Stations were divided into small, medium and large stations. All available police members in small and medium stations were included in the sample, while in large stations random samples were taken according to sex and race. The Adult Suicide Ideation Questionnaire (ASIQ), Police Stress Inventory (PSI), COPE questionnaire, a measure of social support and a biographical questionnaire were administered. Descriptive and inferential statistics were used to analyse the data. Results indicated that 8,64% of the sample showed serious levels of suicide ideation. Previous suicide attempts and having previously been charged in terms of the disciplinary code were significant predictors of current levels of suicide ideation. It was shown that members that scored above the 97th percentile on suicide ideation are Black, from the ranks of sergeant and inspector, and from the Free State and small and medium stations. Concerning the Police Stress Inventory, three internally consistent factors were extracted by means of principal components factor analysis. These factors were Job Demands, Lack of Job Resources and Inherent Police Stressors. Differences regarding stress factors were found between different ranks, races, language groups, provinces and different-sized stations. A measure of coping was validated in the SAPS. Four factors were extracted, namely Active Coping, Avoidance, Seeking Emotional Support and Turning to Religion. Differences were shown between the coping strategies of different ranks, races, provinces and according to size of stations. A stepwise discriminant analysis showed that previous suicide attempt, coping strategies (non-active coping, turning to religion and seeking emotional support) and lacking social support (support from psychological services of the SAPS and friends not in the SAPS), marital status, marital satisfaction, scholastic education, job satisfaction, province, race and physical exercise could be used to predict suicide ideation. It is recommended that the SAPS review current suicide prevention programs to ensure their suitability to all levels of the organisation. The most prominent stressors in need of attention, namely officers not doing their job, poor quality equipment, inadequate salary and seeing criminals go free, were identified and need to be managed by the SAPS. Certain members could benefit from training in effective coping strategies. By way of conclusion, recommendations for future research are made.