Page 7 - Volume 28 Number 2
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 exceed line-of-duty deaths
PTSD also likely affects more than a third of Corrections Officers in state prisons, according to a 2016 study commissioned by the Michigan Corrections Organization (MCO), the officers’ union. About 5% of Michigan Corrections Officers were at a high risk for suicide, the study found, with problems more pronounced among those work- ing in high-security facilities and longtime officers. At least 11 active or recently retired officers have committed suicide since 2015, ac- cording to the most recent reporting by MCO.
Some 34% of state prison Corrections Officers and Forensic Security Assistants at the state’s Center for Forensic Psychiatry — the facility for criminal defendants incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity — met the criteria for PTSD. A quarter of Corrections Officers met the criteria for both PTSD and depression.
Corrections Department officials have partnered with MCO to address PTSD and suicide risk. Spokesman Chris Gautz said the de- partment’s director talks about the risk at every Corrections Officer school graduation, encouraging officers and their families to help one another. “One (suicide) is too many; I know we’ve had several already this year,” Gautz said in a May 2016 Lansing State Journal article. “It’s definitely an issue that we’re very mindful of.”
MCO wants PTSD coping mechanisms to be part of officers’ and supervisors’ yearly training. “We are working to build awareness of corrections PTSD with MDOC administrators and other policy mak- ers,” said Anita Lloyd, MCO Communications Director. “We’re con- tinuing the conversation with corrections staff in other states be- cause it’s a nationwide problem. We need to speak in one voice to move the needle on corrections PTSD.”
MCO’s 2017 Officer of the Year Cary Johnson said in a Lansing State Journal article that she takes new recruits to the Fallen Of- ficers Memorial (see article on Page 4) outside MCO’s Lansing of- fices to remind them of the physical dangers they’ll face working inside prison walls. However, she said, “There are more ways this job can kill you.”
Corrections Officers must stop fights and sexual assaults and are assaulted themselves. Inmates throw bodily fluids at them. How- ever, they must not show their emotions so as not to appear weak to inmates. Like police, they aren’t likely to deal with mental health issues arising from job-related stress because of concerns about being fired, Johnson said.
Hough said the best thing public safety agencies can do is to pro- vide peer support and encourage confidential mental health counsel- ing. Hough is hoping to do her part by traveling around the state visiting public safety departments in the near future with Sean Riley, Founder & President of Safe Call Now, a 24-hour confidential, com-
• Acting withdrawn or noticeably more angry or agitated.
• Not being as sharp on the job.
• Not enjoying things they used to.
• Not acting like they normally do, behavior changes.
• Drinking more alcohol than normally do.
• Not sleeping much.
• Problems in their marriage, not wanting to go home.
• Verbalizing thoughts of suicide.
“With depression you start to not enjoy things you used to — you’re not real happy,” Hough said. “It’s important for peers to rec- ognize. Alcoholism and substance abuse is a quick way to cope. Notice any difference in their behavior — are they sleeping, are they having problems in their marriage, are they going home?”
If an individual has expressed they’re thinking about taking their life, they should go to a hospital for professional help, she said.
prehensive crisis referral service for public safety employees and their family members nationwide. “What Sean and I are going to be doing is to put out a message that it is OK to ask for help,” Hough said.
Helping departments develop a peer support system so officers can talk to co-workers “safely” is key to getting officers the help they need. “The stigma in departments is that it’s not OK to ask for help,” Hough said. “They’re already living the pressure on the streets. They need ... peer support — to not be so judgmental, to be supportive of each other.”
“It’s healthy for the department to offer the options. If they ask for help, provide them with coping skills they can utilize on a daily basis,” Hough said. “Our recommendation is for peers to stick together.”
Law enforcement and other public safety officers can call Safe Call Now to be connected with confidential help. The organization, based in Washington, was started in 2009 after legislation passed guaranteeing confidentiality for all who call Safe Call Now crisis line, which is staffed by current and former first responders including Riley. He was a law enforcement officer from 1987 to 2005 when his police career ended due to alcohol and drug abuse. He was headed toward suicide himself. Instead, Riley got a degree in sub- stance abuse counseling and worked as a supervisor at a local treat- ment center where he witnessed many public safety employees coming in and out of treatment.
“With Safe Call Now, they provide them with emotional armor — teach them how to deal with these day-to-day things that they see,” Hough said. “You need self-care — you’re human and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s important that they have these pro- grams in place... instead of telling them to just suck it up.”
Peer programs and support also help officers spot the signs of a
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