LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan prison workers are facing a mental health crisis that includes much higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal thoughts and alcohol abuse than in the general public, according to a study released Monday.
The report , conducted for the state Department of Corrections by Desert Waters Correctional Outreach, found that corrections employees also are more likely to have symptoms related to depression and anxiety. Nearly 140 workers, or 1.1%, are currently and actively planning to kill themselves, said the study, which was based on an anonymous survey of about 3,500, or 29%, of employees who chose to participate.
"These findings are a cause for grave concern, as they point to a mental health crisis among MDOC employees and a workforce culture in dire need of assistance and support," the authors wrote, noting similar findings in other states and jurisdictions. At least three male corrections officers have died by suicide this year.
Heidi Washington, director of the corrections department, said it is working to create a "culture of wellness that seeks to reduce stress." An employee wellness unit that was recently established will provide confidential mental health support and referrals to staff, and a peer support and chaplaincy program also is being developed.
The staff discipline process is under review, and hundreds of new employees are being hired in an effort to reduce the use of overtime.
"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," Washington said in a written statement.
The report said the rates of major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, PTSD, suicidal ideation and alcohol abuse among corrections workers exceeded those of first responders, military members and the general public by several times. Nearly one in four of all department employees meet the criteria of PTSD, seven times the national average. Nearly one in five meet the criteria for alcohol abuse, 2.7 times the national average.
The study said the overall quality of a working environment has a greater impact on one's mental, physical and family health than exposure to danger or trauma. Policy changes such as improved working conditions, systemic programming and staff trainings can make a difference, according to the report.