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Study: Michigan Department of Corrections employees more likely to experience PTSD, depression and anxiety

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Study: Michigan Department of Corrections employees more likely to experience PTSD, depression and anxiety

Study results to guide department’s ongoing efforts to improve staff wellness 

Lansing, Mich. – Michigan Department of Corrections employees face a higher likelihood of symptoms related to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, suicidal ideation, major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and alcohol abuse compared to the general public, according to a study conducted by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach.

The study was conducted in partnership with the MDOC and was based on an anonymous survey that was available to all department employees between Dec. 5, 2018 and Jan. 12, 2019. The survey was launched with the goal to guide the MDOC’s ongoing efforts to improve staff wellness and reduce incidents of employee suicide.

About 3,500 employees, including corrections officers, field agents and administrative staff, ultimately completed the survey, which assessed overall well-being and key factors related to stress.

Survey respondents identified a number of stressors, including exposure to traumatic events, lack of adequate work life balance, insufficient communication, staff discipline, staffing levels, and inadequate benefits for staff, such as mental health support, among others.

The study reinforces existing literature that correctional staff in Michigan face the same challenges and dangers as correctional staff in other states where the prevalence of symptoms associated with PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse, and suicidal ideation far exceed those of the general public. 

“While we cannot entirely remove the challenges associated with working in a correctional environment, we can, and will, work to establish a culture of wellness that seeks to reduce stress,” MDOC Director Heidi Washington said. “This study underscores the importance of steps we have taken to improve staff wellness and we will continue to build upon those efforts to become a healthier organization.”

The department recently created an Employee Wellness Unit, which will provide confidential mental health supports and referrals to staff and is developing a peer support and chaplaincy program for staff.  The MDOC also created a multidisciplinary team to review the department’s current staff discipline process, and is hiring hundreds of new staff members to reduce the use of mandatory overtime.

In 2016, the department partnered with the Michigan Corrections Organization and Desert Waters to conduct a similar study of corrections officers and forensic security assistants.

The study found corrections officers and forensic security assistants are exposed to high levels of violence, injury, and death events in their workplaces. They also grapple with high levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and depression symptoms, and as their exposure to traumatic events increases, mental health decreases.

“The men and women of the Michigan Department of Corrections are dedicated to protecting the citizens of this state,” Washington said. “The MDOC and its partners, including the legislature, labor organizations and our communities must make it a priority to protect these brave men and women too by offering them the support they need."