By Stephanie Welch, MSW and  Briana Rojas, PsyD

Police and corrections work is challenging and “officers often experience potentially traumatic incidents that may jeopardize their own lives or the lives of their fellow officers,” according to researchers J.P. Anderson and Konstantinos Papzoglou, authors of the study “Compassion Fatigue and Compassion Satisfaction among Police Officers: An Understudied Topic.”

Similar to other professions there are operational and organizational stressors, but the level of traumatic stressors exceeds the average job.

Traumatic stress differs in a number of ways, including the event being unexpected, causing distress, possibly overwhelming coping capacity, and having the potential to alter the way one views the world, found Kristen Lewis in “Surviving the Trenches: The Impact of Trauma Exposure on Correctional Professionals.” Examples of primary traumatic stress range from witnessing violent incidents like motor vehicle fatalities, child abuse and suicide to being assaulted or threatened repeatedly. Symptoms from traumatic stress are physical (muscle tension), cognitive (numbness, rumination), emotional (irritability, depression), and behavioral (alcohol/ drug use, sleep disturbance).

Secondary traumatic stress is experienced and often referred to as “compassion or corrections fatigue.” On a daily basis, these professionals are exposed to interacting with victims, conducting pre-sentencing investigations, or having to observe violence or witness co-workers harmed in the line of duty. In the most extreme cases, repeat and prolonged exposure to trauma can result in post-traumatic stress disorder. A recent survey of the membership of the American Probation and Parole Association (APPA) found that nearly a third of respondents reported four or more primary traumatic events in their career. In short, police and corrections work can result in psychological distress, burnout, and maladaptive coping mechanisms, all of which have a personal and professional toll.

Three effective ways to support law enforcement and community corrections professionals from the impact of trauma are:

  • Providing education beginning at the cadet and academy level, so that officers are aware of the possible impact of trauma and how to identify signs and changes in behavior that may signify a potential problem,
  • Creating work culture that promotes healthy coping and self-care practices. Peer Support Programs (including CDCR’s) have several benefits such as providing help to those who might be reluctant to access external resources. Peer support programs can offer support following incidents associated with high stress, and
  • Easy, timely, and confidential access to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) and dedicated mental health professionals with experience working with law enforcement and correctional officers and their families who can provide counseling and program support for individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges.

CDCR is working hard to expand and implement services to support employee wellness. For more information visit http://www.cdcr.ca.gov/wellness/

During Mental Health Month and all year long, CDCR encourages staff members and their families to take a moment for their mental health.

CDCR’s Office of Employee Health and Wellness provides education and resources to employees to promote a healthy lifestyle. The Peer Support Program (PSP) was established to ensure employees involved in work-related critical incidents are provided with intervention and available resources to cope with the immediate effects of a traumatic incident. PSP is available for all employees at their worksite at no cost. For more information, call (855) 897-9822 or visit www.cdcr.ca.gov/Wellness/index.html.

The following resources are available for employees and their families at no cost:

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Phone 1-866-327-4762 or go to www.eap.calhr.ca.gov

(EAP is a 24-hour confidential hotline for employees and eligible dependents to help find balance, overcome stress, and help with day-to-day challenges.)

Law Enforcement Chaplaincy (LECS)

Phone 1916-365-2273 or email chaplaincorps@lecs911.com

(LECS  provides confidential, 24/7, 365 days a year crisis incident stress management and post-trauma stress services for both custody and non-custody employees and their families impacted by the traumatic and unpredictable nature of critical incidents.)

Safe Call Now

Phone 1-206-459-3020 or go to www.safecallnow.org

(A confidential, comprehensive, 24-hour crisis referral service for all public safety employees and all emergency services personnel and their families nationwide.)

Crisis Text Line

Text HOME to 741741 in the United States or go to www.crisistextline.org

(Provides confidential service to anyone, anytime, about any type of crisis. A live trained crisis counselor receives the text and responds quickly to assist you through your personal crisis.)

Mental Health Treatment Locator

Phone 1-800-662-4357 or go to www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

(Provides 24-hour confidential information for individuals and family members facing substance abuse and mental health issues.)

Friends for Survival

Phone 1-916-392-0664 or go to www.friendsforsurvival.org

(Provides a variety of peer support services that comfort those in grief who have been affected by a death caused by suicide. Encourages healing and growth, fosters the development of skills to cope with a loss and educates the community regarding the impact of suicide.)

Military One Source

Phone 1-800-342-9647 or go to www.militaryonesource.mil/

(A confidential Department of Defense-funded program providing comprehensive information on every aspect of military life at no cost to active duty, Guard and Reserve Component members, and their families.)

Mental health services are also available through your health providers.