PTSD in prison employees

PTSD in prison employees

Causes of PTSD – Prison Employees

Research isn’t needed to show that, almost inevitably, working in a prison is a stressful occupation. Caring for some of the UK’s most dangerous and unpredictable individuals can cause high levels of stress, particularly when there are incidents of violence or abuse. Unfortunately, with more than two-thirds of prisons housing more prisoners than they are meant to and a significant number of prisoners (around 25%) suffering from mental health problems, it’s little wonder that prisons are volatile environments in which to work.

Insufficient staffing can increase the chances of a violent incident

In addition to the factors mentioned previously, inadequate staffing levels and a lack of experienced staff members can mean the working environment is more dangerous than it needs to be. There are also a number of other factors which have the potential to exacerbate the risk of violent incidents and other traumatic circumstances for prison employees.

Increased levels of violent incidents can exacerbate PTSD levels

Recent figures show that the number of assaults on prison staff has risen by a quarter since 2017. Prisoner-on-prisoner assaults (highly stressful situations where prison workers are called upon to intervene) have also increased.

What does PTSD look like in prison workers?

Everyone is slightly different, which means their response to a stressful event or series of events will vary. PTSD does not consist of a “one size fits all” set of symptoms, but common indicators of PTSD include:

– the victim constantly reliving the traumatic incident(s), or having flashbacks.
– increased anxiety and fear, particularly in a similar environment to that where the incident took place.
– sufferers may become “triggered” by situations, people or objects which remind them of the incident, causing intense feelings of fear and anxiety
– sleep disturbances are common
– sufferers may get intrusive thoughts which are difficult to manage.

Research suggests that up to 20% of prison workers are suffering from some form of PTSD. Female prison workers, BME prison workers and more experienced staff are particularly likely to experience PTSD.

What can be done to minimise the risk of PTSD, or to treat its symptoms?

It’s important that staff get appropriate support and assistance as soon as possible after a violent or otherwise stressful incident. This may include:

– Prompt access to talking therapies such as counselling, CBT or EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing)
– Support from management and colleagues
– Appropriate time off or work-related adjustments as necessary.

REFERENCES: Independent, The Guardian, Howard League, The Guardian, The Guardian, Newsweek.

Treatments for PTSD

It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.


You’ll find up-to-date news, research and information here along with some great tips to ease your PTSD in our blog.

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