A new U.K. study reveals that 40% of security guards show symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as these workers are commonly exposed to episodes of verbal and physical abuse.

The study findings are published in the journal Policing and Society.

Security guards play a valuable role in many aspects of our daily life. They patrol public streets, shopping areas and transport hubs; police night-time and entertainment venues; guard sensitive and important infrastructure such as government buildings, courts, social security officers, airports and ports; they also transport valuables and prisoners.

Contact with the general public is a key factor in most of the roles taken on by security officers. The research team found this often produces conflict, leading to many challenges. This could be anything from verbal abuse to violent assault. In extreme cases, security guards have been killed in the course of their duties.

The new study is the largest to date focused on the mental health of British private security workers.

For the study, researchers at the University of Portsmouth interviewed 750 security officers and found that almost 40% showed symptoms of PTSD. Another key finding of the study shows a real lack of provision by security companies for employee mental health and well-being services.

The research was led by Dr. Risto Talas and Professor Mark Button, Professor of Criminology in the Institute of Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Portsmouth in England.

“With almost 40% of those surveyed exhibiting symptoms of PTSD, it leaves a very clear message that the issue of mental health is not currently being taken seriously by security managers. There is an emerging picture of a failure by the security industry to address these issues,” said Professor Button.

Within the last 50 years, the private security industry has transformed from a small niche sector to a huge global industry. In the UK alone, where the study was conducted, there are more than 350,000 licensed security guards, with many others working in the sector who don’t need a license.

The research showed that 64.6% of security guards suffered verbal abuse at least once a month (50% of these were as regular as once a week). In addition, 43% of respondents reported threats of violence at least once a month (10% were getting threatened on a daily basis).

The research team also found that more than 30% of those surveyed reported some kind of physical assault in the workplace once a year. Almost 10% reported a minor physical assault at least once a month.

Another key finding was the lack of mental health and well-being services provided by the security companies to their employees. And managers in general were unable or unwilling to accept that some employees were struggling with poor mental health or well-being.

“The research has revealed a worrying lack of support provided by the security companies. This must change and more research is required on what the security industry as a whole must do to address this issue before it becomes a larger societal issue, with added pressure on the limited mental health and wellbeing services provided by the NHS,” said Professor Button.

Source: University of Portsmouth