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Often your mental, not physical, health defeats you

Mental health treatment for corrections professionals is rising in response to demand

Editor's Note: This article is part of the C1 2010 ACA summer conference report.

By Evan Wagstaff

When we become focused on the day to day duties entrusted to us, it’s often easy to forget about the importance of our mental well-being. On-duty officers often depend on physical strength to survive without anticipating that it may be their mental health that collapses beneath them.

According to Hank Talbot, clinical outreach representative at the Brattleboro Retreat, work-related breakdowns have become increasingly common among corrections personnel. Talbot was at the 2010 ACA summer conference raising awareness about The Brattleboro Retreat’s new Uniformed Services Program.

The Brattleboro Retreat has specialized in mental health treatment for over 175 years, although its program catering specifically to uniformed personnel is less than a year old. Talbot pointed to a growing awareness of the acute stress-related trauma that uniformed servicemen and women experience on a daily basis, and said these clients benefit from a specially tailored treatment.

"It’s dedicated specifically to uniformed personnel," Talbot said about the program. "There’s much information available about the stress-related trauma associated with uniformed services, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse disorders amongst this population and the alarming degree of it."

Laura Bedard, a corrections officer and author/lecturer on correctional issues, recommended a "balance of personal and professional lives." The correctional environment is often surrounded with negativity. Frustrated inmates, overworked colleagues, and public apathy toward the profession can all be mentally taxing. Living a life outside the prison system is critical to success at a career within it.

"Time away renews us to come back and deal with the prison issues," Bedard said in an article for "This is a critical piece of the puzzle: Time away from work makes us more effective at work."

The stress of being a uniformed officer can manifest itself in other areas, from familial disputes to addiction issues. According to Talbot, sound mental health allows corrections professionals to manage trauma in a healthy way and to reengage affected parts of their lives.

"There are modalities out there that we can incorporate that can help people not only effectively deal with the stress in their lives, but that develop skills to be able to return to their lives," Talbot said. "They don’t have to go on a regiment of pharmaceuticals for the rest of their lives or remove themselves from the arena that they love and are dedicated to."

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