The mental health and wellbeing of spouses, partners and children of emergency responders: A systematic review

Sharp, Marie-Louise; Solomon, Noa; Harrison, Virginia; Gribble, Rachael; Cramm, Heidi; Pike, Graham and Fear, Nicola T. (2022). The mental health and wellbeing of spouses, partners and children of emergency responders: A systematic review. PLOS ONE, 17(6), article no. e0269659.



Emergency responders (ERs), often termed First Responders, such as police, fire and paramedic roles are exposed to occupational stressors including high workload, and exposure to trauma from critical incidents, both of which can affect their mental health and wellbeing. Little is known about the impact of the ER occupation on the mental health and wellbeing of their families. The aim of the current study was to investigate what mental health and wellbeing outcomes and experiences have been researched internationally in ER families, and to examine the prevalence and associated risk and protective factors of these outcomes. We conducted a systematic review in accordance with an a priori PROSPERO approved protocol (PROSPERO 2019 CRD42019134974). Forty-three studies were identified for inclusion. The majority of studies used a quantitative, cross-sectional design and were conducted in the United States; just over half assessed police/law enforcement families. Themes of topics investigated included: 1) Spousal/partner mental health and wellbeing; 2) Couple relationships; 3) Child mental health and wellbeing; 4) Family support and coping strategies; and 5) Positive outcomes. The review identified limited evidence regarding the prevalence of mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Family experiences and risk factors described were ER work-stress spillover negatively impacting spousal/partner wellbeing, couple relationships, and domestic violence. Traumatic exposure risk factors included concerns family had for the safety of their ER partner, the negative impact of an ER partners’ mental health problem on the couples’ communication and on family mental health outcomes. Protective factors included social support; however, a lack of organisational support for families was reported in some studies. Study limitations and future research needs are discussed. Progressing this area of research is important to improve knowledge of baseline needs of ER families to be able to target interventions, improve public health, and support ER’s operational effectiveness.

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