Why was the study done?
In 2016 Health Canada declared that suicide was a public health issue. Rates of suicidal behaviours, including thoughts, plans, attempts, and death, are higher in public safety personnel (PSP) than in the general population. Recent research has shown that corrections workers’ rates of suicidal behaviours are some of the highest amongst PSP.
Suicidal behaviours involve complex interactions between the environment and personal mental health. The current study examines the reflections of a group of corrections officers who were asked about their past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviours.
What was done in the study?
Data for this study was provided from a more extensive survey of Ontario corrections workers. The study examined the response to an open-ended asked after participants had completed a measure of past-year and lifetime suicidal behaviours. In total, 25 participants provided additional information about their experiences with suicidal behaviour. The authors analyzed these responses to allow key themes to emerge from the participant’s responses.
What did we find out?
- All participants talked about having thoughts of suicide, but many considered them passive because they did not lead to plans or attempts.
- Participants identified risk factors for suicidal behaviours, which included:
- Marital challenges or breakups;
- family stress or change;
- poor working conditions, including harassment and bullying;
- and challenging experiences in their youth.
- Participants also identified several factors they felt protected them from suicidal behaviours, including:
- internal factors like worry about collateral damage, consequences, the effort required to commit suicide, fear, and willpower;
- and external factors like family (specifically children), friends, and pets.
- Many of the participants had sought mental health help with varying levels of success. The biggest hurdles to effective mental health help were scheduling issues, costs, limited availability of resources, and lack of understanding for the stresses of corrections work from mental health professionals.
- Participants voiced concern that their employer did not understand suicidal behaviours. In addition, participants highlighted the fact that suicide crisis websites were blocked on their work computers.
Where do we go from here?
This small group of corrections workers highlighted important risk and protective factors for suicidal behaviours. They also provided suggestions about areas that can be improved, like employer support and education on job stresses for mental health professionals looking to treat corrections workers. Comments from the participants indicated that many rely on family, friends, and peers for mental health support. This reliance means that organizations and researchers should create standardized training for peers to improve their understanding of mental health concerns. The protective effects provided by family and friends also highlight a need for supports for family members, who are the primary caregivers when it comes to mental health concerns.
The original wording of the study was changed and condensed for the current research summary.
Genest, C., Ricciardelli, R. & Carleton, R.N. (2021). Correctional Work: Reflections regarding suicide. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 18, 4280. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18084280
Summary prepared by Kossick, E. Edited & reviewed by Barootes, B. & Genest, C.