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Correction officers facing mental health concerns, PTSD

A new study suggests correctional workers face similar PTSD symptoms as war veterans. (WGME)

PORTLAND (WGME) -- A new study from the American Journal of Industrial Medicine suggests the number of corrections officers across the country is dwindling and with many jails and prisons becoming overcrowded, officers are overworked.

The study suggests this has lead to a critical mental health crisis where workers are even facing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

"There's a lot that they deal with that isn't normal and quite frankly people shouldn't have to deal with in a perfect world," Officer Heath Roberts with the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office said. "But we don't live in a perfect world, we live in a broken world and we deal with the broken side of it on a daily basis."

The study found that nearly 20% of corrections officers in Washington state expressed symptoms of P.T.S.D. That's the same rate as military veterans returning from Iraq or Afghanistan.

"I wouldn't say they're on the same level per-say," Officer Roberts said. "But I think the effects with what you go through create the same challenges."

Corrections officers often see the worst of our society and try to control it

"You just never know what might happen," Officer Roberts said. "We deal with suicides, people jumping off the top tier of a pod trying to commit suicide and we deal with people who do wall paint with their feces... or their blood."

On the state level, the Maine Department of Corrections believes the job of a corrections worker is evolving.

"A lot of times, even though the job is very stressful, I think corrections officers can feel like they make a real difference," DOC Commissioner Dr. Joseph Fitzpatrick said. "Not just in the life of the offender but in the community in general that the offender will go back to."

The D.O.C. still has policies in place to help their officers, including a peer support program that gives officers a safe place to debrief difficult and traumatic experiences

"That's made a critical difference in my opinion," Commissioner Fitzpatrick said. "Often times those staff members are really comfortable talking with someone who understands the job."

At the end of the day many of the officers said it's their duty to fight through the troublesome times and do their job

"You have down days in whatever job you do, we're not different than anyone else in that regard," Officer Roberts said. "But the dynamic of what we deal with sometimes is a little bit weightier."

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