MENTAL HEALTH FOR PRISON OFFICERS
Recently I officiated at the Moshupa Boys Prison in a workshop organised by students of I.H.S Lobatse and today discussion will reflect on the workshop. The workshop focus was on prison officers’ mental health in the workplace. According to the 2017 Mental Health at Work Report, “60 % of employees have experienced a mental health issue due to work or where work was a contributing factor at some point in their careers.” Prisons are no different as they are deemed a hostile, demanding and challenging work environment which could be to some extent be a habitat for poor mental health. As reported by Newsweek Online, a survey of Washington State Department of Corrections indicated that 20 % of participants displayed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. Another California study in 2018, did also highlight that 10% prison guards did contemplate suicide; a clarion call for dialogue on the matter. In prisons there are issues of safety rising from violence by inmates which can have a bearing on the prison staff mental health state. Physical security and safety have been seen by the World Health Organisation as protective factors towards mental health. Prison staff bear witness to traumatising experiences and events as relayed by prisoners or in court appearances. The warders interact a lot with inmates and get to understand their ordeal and get to know what transpired in the purported crime. This at times come to haunt the prison officers in the form of PTSD. PTSD can occur even when one is given a narration of a traumatic event! Counselling services need be provided and debriefing is also a must as far as the mental health of warders is concerned. Debriefing entails giving an opportunity to individuals to relieve the experiences and emotions in order to allow for catharsis. Mental health in the prison setup requires a two-pronged approach that seeks to help officers deal with their own issues and on the other hand address the inmates’ issues surrounding their sentencing and thus the need for a fully functional mental health service under prisons. Staff training on mental health issues should be provided to enhance understanding on mental disorders and encourage mental health promotion for both staff and prisoners. The workshop was worthwhile and I recommend that it be expanded to other prison centres!