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PTSD: The Hidden Crisis Among Correction Officers

Job demands that come with high intensity, continual pressure, and inmate violence have created a hidden PTSD crisis among prison correction officers in the United States. According to clinical studies, PTSD among correction officers is a serious problem that's linked to high blood pressure, heart attacks, stomach ulcers, and reduced life expectancy. Although many officers are aware they need help, most are reluctant to seek support.

Correction Officers Suffer from PTSD

According to clinical research, studies show that prison correction officers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at a rate that's more than double that of military combat veterans. The inherent demands of the job and dealing with constant episodes of inmate violence take a huge toll on prison guards who interact with prisoners on a regular basis. Although the impact of PTSD on correction officers isn't talked about much, it presents a widespread and under-reported problem in society.

A 2011 study done on the effects of PTSD among correction officers ran tests to check for common PTSD symptoms including hyper-vigilance, insomnia, flashbacks of traumatic incidents, alienation, and suicidal thoughts. Results revealed that 34 percent of guards tested had clear indications of PTSD, as compared to only 14 percent of war veterans who show signs of the disorder. According to national studies, corrections officers have a suicide rate that is twice as high as that of the general public and police officers. The suicide risk among correction officers is almost 40 percent higher than in any other profession.

Prison correction officers are in high-stress jobs. Although most days are spent doing cell counts, supervising inmate activities, and performing other mundane tasks, officers are always on alert for attempted suicides and violence between inmates and against officers. A work injury lawyer sees a high number of injury claims from correction officers that involve traumatic injuries and disabilities caused by violent inmate assaults. On occasion, violence results when officers take their stress out on inmates.

The constant stress of facing crisis situations and potentially life-threatening injuries puts correction officers at extremely high risk for PTSD. Many prison guards admit they are more cynical, anxious and aggressive, even when they are not on duty. To deal with emotional issues brought on by the stress of the job, many guards turn to alcohol or drugs to cope. In many prisons across the country, prison guards admit to using alcohol and/or drugs while on duty.

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