“It's all window dressing:” Canadian police officers' perceptions of mental health stigma in their workplace

Lesley J. Bikos (Department of Sociology, Western University, London, Canada)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Publication date: 4 December 2020



This study will provide a preliminary, general overview of Canadian police officers' perception of stigma toward mental illness in their workplace culture and its impacts.


This study uses a mixed methods approach with two nationwide datasets: a self-report survey (N = 727) and 116 semi-structured interviews with police officers from 31 police services. Results are grounded in theories of stigma, masculinities and organizational culture.


Results indicate that most officers believe stigma toward mental illness in their workplace remains, despite senior management messaging and program implementation. Reporting mental illness was often seen as high risk, both personally and professionally. Policewomen, constables and those on leave reported statistically significant higher levels of perceived stigma and risk. Features of traditional masculinity were commonly reported, influencing the way individuals viewed themselves (self-stigma) and organizational response (structural stigma). Those with lived experience reported the highest levels of self and structural stigmatization, which often negatively impacted their recovery.


This study strengthens our understanding of how organizational culture and structure combine to contribute to the persistent presence of stigma in some Canadian police services (with implications for male-dominated occupations generally). Gender, rank, years of service and lived experience are additional areas of limited scholarship addressed by this study. The findings have important implications for effective program and policy evaluation and development.



The author offers their sincere gratitude to Ph.D. supervisor, Dr. Tracey Adams for her support and guidance and Sergeant Dave Gilmore, President of the London Police Association, for his support and invaluable assistance with the online survey. Thank you to the anonymous reviewers whose helpful feedback improved this manuscript.


Bikos, L.J. (2020), "“It's all window dressing:” Canadian police officers' perceptions of mental health stigma in their workplace", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 44 No. 1, pp. 63-76. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-07-2020-0126



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