Questioning identity: Examining identity processes and threat in the context of policing mental health

PhD Thesis

Fuller, S. (2021). Questioning identity: Examining identity processes and threat in the context of policing mental health. PhD Thesis London South Bank University School of Applied Sciences
AuthorsFuller, S.
TypePhD Thesis

Mental health related work in policing has increased in recent decades. However, little is known about the impact of this increase on police officers’ identity. In addition, there is a dearth of research on police interactions with crime victims who experience mental health issues. The current thesis addresses these knowledge gaps by examining these aspects of policing and utilises Identity Process Theory (Breakwell, 1986, 1993, 2014) as an analytical framework.
The presented analysis is based on twenty-four semi-structured interviews with police officers of varying ranks. A thematic analysis; which was both data and theory driven, resulted in three overarching themes: (i) ‘‘We are not mental health professionals’: Distinctiveness in protecting and negotiating the ‘police identity’’, (ii) ‘Crime victims with mental health issues: The challenges of protection and prosecution’, and (iii) ‘The underlying threats of a spoiled identity: The identification of victims’ mental health issues’.
The findings indicate that police officers appear to experience identity threat in a variety of ways due to their mental health related work. The analysis demonstrates how officers engage in numerous coping strategies in response to potential identity threats, in order to protect and maintain a satisfactory identity. In relation to crime victims with mental health issues, officers appear to largely experience threats to efficacy and meaning because of difficulties in managing vulnerability and obtaining convictions. Such threats were apparent for both crime fighter/law enforcement and protector/welfare aspects of their identity. It was also shown that officers may experience identity threats when enquiring about victims’ mental health status due to the stigma of mental health. Such threats seemingly result in officers only broaching this topic with victims in specific circumstances, such as when the victim’s mental health issue is evident.
This thesis contributes a novel insight to the policing and mental health field by demonstrating the potential workings of identity processes and threat, for officers in this context. Here, it is argued that without changes to the social and professional contexts in which police operate, identity threats are likely to endure and continue to impede working practices with crime victims who have mental health issues.

PublisherLondon South Bank University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
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Publication dates
Print12 Feb 2021
Publication process dates
Deposited28 Apr 2023
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