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‘Toughing it out’ is not the only option for corrections professionals

Industry insider champions new Mental Health First Aid Course for corrections professionals

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Content supplied by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing

With 14 years of experience in the corrections industry, plus family in the field, Kristen Thompson has a beat on what goes on inside correctional facilities.

Thompson, who is a field services training manager for the Wyoming Department of Corrections, had a parent who worked in corrections, and her spouse also works in corrections. So, when it came time for the National Council for Mental Wellbeing to develop a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course for people who work with incarcerated populations, Thompson was the person was the perfect person to turn to for input and guidance on the course.

Mental health challenges in corrections

Thompson recognizes mental health is a sensitive issue for most who work as a professional in correctional facilities. But she’s also seen firsthand how 50% of corrections officers have reported post-traumatic stress symptoms and 48% have reported mild to severe depression.

“Working in corrections, we have a high rate of deaths by suicide. There is a mental health crisis,” she said. “But in corrections, mental health is a hard topic for staff to talk about. Many people feel we shouldn’t show weakness, and we should ‘tough it out,’ because it’s our job to keep our communities safe while working with an incarcerated population.

“MHFA for Corrections Professionals speaks to those of us working in this profession. While working with the National Council on this course, I wanted to ensure the course made staff feel recognized and seen.”

Equipping corrections personnel with the tools to seek, provide help

MHFA for Corrections Professionals is an evidence-based, early intervention program. It equips staff with the knowledge to identify, understand and respond to mental health and substance use challenges in their colleagues. Through relatable, real-life scenarios, the training teaches learners risk and protective factors specific to corrections professionals, as well as methods of self-care they can use following the application of MHFA.

The instructor-led, 7.5-hour course consists of 10 learning segments including explaining the role of a Mental Health First Aider, the importance of early intervention, de-escalation strategies in a crisis situation, medical emergencies and self-care practices for First Aiders.

From correction officers and chaplains to administrative teams and health care staff, MHFA for Corrections Professionals is a tool that can be utilized in crisis and noncrisis situations.

“In recent years, our industry has seen the growing information on mental health, and we need to build on that,” Thompson said. “By becoming a Mental Health First Aider, a potential learner can respond to a family member, friend, co-worker, associate, or someone in their community. Mental Health First Aid allows a learner to become aware of how to apply the 5-step MHFA Action Plan (ALGEE) in a multitude of situations from early signs up to crisis situations.”

People shouldn’t have to tough it out, at work or at home. MHFA for Corrections Professionals is a way to reach a community that is dedicated to its community. Use MHFA’s Find-a-Course tool to locate a class near you. Classes range from $0 to $170 in fees.