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Taking care of our own
By Bryan Avila, TDCJ Correctional Training Instructor - Sergeant of Correctional Officers
Published: 02/03/2014

Suicide prevention Over the last 2 months I have seen over social media an increase in notifications of officers that have died as a result of suicide all across the nation. This has been heart-wrenching to watch. Over the course of my career I have seen many officers suffer from depression, whether they admitted it or not. The signs were all there. The isolation, the demeanor, the look of resignation.

Although we may never know exactly why they chose the course of action that they took, there are sometimes many different contributing factors. In 2012 I wrote an article, PTSD in Corrections, in which I discussed a research study that was conducted by The Desert Waters Correctional Outreach. In this study they found that 27% of all correctional staff suffer from PTSD.

Now please don’t think that I’m saying that all these officers suffered from PTSD, but statistically speaking, some of them probably did. We know that there may also be other contributing factors that lead to their decision such as depression (non-PTSD related), family problems, financial problems or even health problems. Here recently I found out that colleague that worked nearby took his own life after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Why he chose that route we don’t know. How long did he know about the diagnosis prior to passing away? We don’t know. What we do know is that we lost a great man.

We constantly train to detect suicidal behavior in offenders. ACA requires it. In some states the law requires it. But how often do we put that same training to use on ourselves? Do we think that it is not as beneficial to us? That’s it’s geared only towards offenders?

When we talk about suicide prevention during In-service we bring up the Employees Assistance Program (EAP). To this day I am still surprised at how many staff members have “heard of it” but do not really know what they do. I have their number programmed right into my phone. Not because I need them (one day I may) but because of other staff members that have needed them and did not have the number. On a few occasions I have pulled out my phone, dialed the number, handed them my phone and walked away so that they can speak to someone.

This is not a matter of pride or ego. This is a matter of looking out for each other. We preach that we are one family. That we take care of our own. Unfortunately, sometimes we fail in this very area with each other. Statements that are made such as “(s)he’ll be OK” after serious incidents, or “suck it up”, “man up” or any other statements along these lines are counterproductive. We may know what is going on at work with that person but we may not know what is going on at home.

Let’s make sure that we look after each other. Remember, we ARE one family.

Editor's note: Corrections.com author Bryan Avila started working as a Police Officer in 1994 while attending Norwich University in Northfield, VT. In 1999 he began working for the Vermont Dept of Corrections while still working as a Part-Time Police Officer. In 2007 he left public service until 2009 when he began working for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. He is currently a Correctional Training Instructor- Sergeant of Correctional Officers, at the TDCJ Region I Training Academy located in Huntsville, TX.

Other articles by Avila:


Comments:

  1. KJCharity on 02/11/2014:

    SUICIDAL STAFF? WOW! The DETAINED are treated like PATIENTS DIAGNOSED SUICIDAL! ***ARE 99% of the DETAINED DIAGNOSED SUICIDAL?***IF NOT, THEN it is SAFE TO ADD WET BATHS (toilet/shower combos) to CELL ROOMS*** ***ATTENTION: Standard JAIL, DETENTION CENTER, and PRISON housing areas are designed to subject the detained (incarcerated) to "Periodic Suicide Watch," typically before each detainee is officially diagnosed suicidal. For some odd reason, standard cell rooms are lacking enclosed toilet and shower bath areas. ***CURRENT PROBLEM TO BE RESOLVED: The uncovered toilet areas are problematic, since they BY DESIGN expose the detained to profuse odors, germs, bacteria (e.g., E. coli poisoning), and viruses.


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