Resources

Expand each section below for more information and helpful resources.

Needs assistance brochure 2016

Mental Health – Considering the Correctional Professional

There are many great resources on mental health topics that apply to some challenges that correctional professionals may face. There are a few terms that do need some specific considerations when applied to the correctional professional. Correctional professionals are highly trained in a specialized environment that develops strong, vital skills in the work place that require some translation or special consideration when seeking support. More specifically the terms “anxiety” and “hyper vigilance” should be put into perspective.

  • Well trained officers are highly skilled in restricting their physical and emotional responses to conversations and events. One of the most important tools in the safety and success of an officer is minimizing their visual impact of an incident. An officer’s greatest asset at work can be their worst enemy when it comes to home and family relationships.
  • At work an officer is functionally numb. Emotional numbing is vital for an officer to maintain professionalism and safety when dealing with challenging circumstances in the prison environment. Life outside of work asks the officer to go against everything they are trained to do. This is beyond the “leave your work at work” philosophy. Specialized professions often have character shaping elements that become a part of an individual’s manner of being. Teachers are often described as highly organized people, engineers as concrete thinkers and lawyers as argumentative. Just as other professionals with specialized training, correctional professionals can be presented with “occupational hazards” that are challenging in non-work arenas.
  • Specialized skills that are important for the correctional professional can make it difficult to understand when an officer is in need of help. It is challenging to discern when a behavior is a minor “occupational hazard” and when the behavior has become problematic or a sign of distress.
  • Anxiety or hyper vigilance in an officer can be challenging to identify. For example, every officer is highly trained in being aware of all entry points to a room or to move about an open space in such a way that they are able to effectively scan the area for safety. Officers are constantly scanning, this is an occupational hazard which may by an annoyance to loved ones, but is not necessarily problematic. An officer’s need to sit in a specific location at a restaurant can simply be a quirk of working in corrections.
  • The behavior of “scanning” may have become a sign of anxiety or hyper vigilance if there has been a marked increase of being vigilant to the point of always feeling at risk. If a general sense of paranoia is present it is time to seek help.
  • An officer may have experienced their heart begin to race or feeling “ready to respond” when a call for “assistance in aisle 3” in the supermarket comes over the intercom or they hear a heightened tone or volume of a voice in a room or over a radio that mimics a “stress call” at work. Again, specially trained professionals have many occupational hazards.
  • This scenario can be an indication of a need for support if the correctional professional is unable to quickly calm themselves or experience a dramatic change in mood or a sustained state of hyper-arousal. Hyper-arousal is identified as the following symptoms: increases in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure; racing thoughts, physical tension, difficulty sleeping, anxiety fear, irritability or anger. Behaviors, such as this, that have presented in a more pronounced way in an officer can be an element of anxiety, hyper vigilance or trauma reactive behavior.

Mental Fitness & Physical Health

  • The laws of nature demand balance! In corrections outside interests and hobbies are vital to the health and wellbeing of an officer. It is critical to the physical and mental health of an officer that there are active interests in their lives. From coaching to woodworking, masonry or enjoying the outdoors these activities are important!
  • Much of the work in corrections is spent in a state of “arousal”. This has much hormonal impact on your brain and body. Prioritizing the hormonal balance of stress is vital to having a healthy career, home life and ultimately retirement.
  • Happy Hour is NOT a hobby! It is crucial that correctional professionals take time to engage in relaxing/restorative activity to counteract the internal stress responses triggered in the body during the work day.
  • The best thing an officer can do for their overall health is exercise! A workout is the most effective way to healthfully regulate the stress hormones produced in the specialized circumstances that officers are presented with.
  • While there isn’t necessarily a physical altercation in every shift worked there is always a need to be vigilant and ready to respond at any moment. This is chronic stress on the body and brain.
  • According to the American Psychological Association When the body is stressed, muscles tense up. Muscle tension is almost a reflex reaction to stress — the body’s way of guarding against injury and pain. With sudden onset stress, the muscles tense up all at once, and then release their tension when the stress passes. Chronic stress causes the muscles in the body to be in a more or less constant state of guardedness. When muscles are taut and tense for long periods of time, this may trigger other reactions of the body and even promote stress-related disorders. For example, both tension-type headache and migraine headache are associated with chronic muscle tension in the area of the shoulders, neck and head”.

For complete information on the impact of stress on the body check out the American Psychological Association – Stress Effects on the Body

Awareness of Anxiety – Signs and Symptoms

Anxiety is a commonly used term in mental health and is often a symptom under larger umbrella terms such as Depression or PTSD. Anxiety can appear as the following symptoms:

  • Quick to startle (Note: this is significantly different for correctional professionals as previously noted)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches
  • Difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching
  • Irritability
  • Sweating, nausea, lightheadedness
  • Digestive trouble – constipation or frequent need to go

It is important to note that anxiety can be commonly accompanied by alcohol or substance use to mask anxiety symptoms. Treatment of substance use must be addressed in order to effectively treat the anxiety itself.

For more on Anxiety and all variations of anxiety check out information at the National Institute of Mental Health

Awareness of PTSD – Signs and Symptoms

Trauma in the correctional professional is very complex. While many definitions or discussions on trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) identify a particular incident that is defined as traumatic, the correctional professional has multiple incidents throughout a shift, let alone career that could be identified as multiple traumatic incidents.

Diagnostic criteria for PTSD in DSM-V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), includes a defining criteria of traumatic incident as “repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse)”. While one may be able to identify a particular event that has triggered behavioral symptoms, it is important to note that “reoccurring exposure” is a diagnostic criterion that is appropriate for the correctional professional.

Traumatic response behaviors/symptoms include the following:

  • Negative feelings about themselves or others
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb – sense of being emotionally numb, experiencing a sense unreality, dissociative amnesia (pushing out the awareness of the incident)
  • Spacing out
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia, hypervigilance
  • Increased anxiety
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much, gambling, road rage
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping, hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts about the incidents
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Avoiding discussions about the incidents *
  • Avoiding work

*(In corrections there is the unwritten rule “don’t bring your work home with you”. This is a challenge to the potential willingness to discuss and incident. Working with a therapist can help differentiate between maintaining professionalism as an officer and a traumatic response).

For more information on PTSD check out National Center for PTSD

Awareness of Suicide – Signs and Symptoms

Family Support

Often the lack of affect or “numbing” of an officer can be very difficult on a relationship. It can also be very difficult to discuss problems with your loved one. A well trained officer is very good at blocking out or responding harshly to tension directed toward them. The more an officer is “nagged” or told “you’re not listening” the higher the likely hood that they really are not listening to you. This is again, a part of their training and often keeps them safe at work. Remaining calm, clear and compassionate with your loved one about the concerns you have is the best way to communicate!

You are the first one to notice that your loved one has changed over their years of service. These changes can be so overwhelming and you may even feel like you don’t know them anymore. You may feel like they don’t care about you or that it’s your fault. You’re not alone! It is common for loved ones to feel that way. You may have wondered if you or your loved one should seek help. Seeking help is a tremendous show of love and strength. Once you’ve noticed the signs of stress you can begin understanding what is going on and begin feeling connected to your loved one again.

  • What are the signs that your loved one is in need of support? You may have noticed some of these symptoms in your loved one:
  • Negative feelings about themselves or others
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Inability to experience positive emotions
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities you once enjoyed together
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Paranoia, hypervigilance
  • Increased anxiety
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame
  • Self-destructive behavior, such as drinking too much, gambling, road rage
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping, hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure

Reaching out to help your loved one is no small task. It is crucial that you know and find your own supports as you support others! You don’t have to do it all alone. Reaching out to others is the first step. You can call your health care professional, therapist, clergy or other community supports to get started. You can search for programs that specifically support uniformed services professionals in your area.

If you feel someone is in danger of committing suicide or has attempted to commit suicide, stay with that person and call 911 or get them to the nearest emergency room!

Download the Family Support Brochure

Where to Find Help

The correctional professional is a specialized field which requires specialized considerations when treatment is needed. There are programs that are committed to understanding and treating the uniformed professional. Here is a list of specified programs:

RESPOND

RESPOND is a Corrections, Public Safety, and Family Member assistance program dedicated to provide the following confidential services to our dedicated brother and sister professionals. RESPOND was developed by retired Corrections Officers with over 80 years of experience.

Contact by Phone:
Aida Ouillette, Director, 508-844-1800
Gary Ouillette, 508-274-5184
Rob Brouillette, Peer Counselor 617-212-8086

24/7 accessibility
Confidentiality Assured