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There has been a lot of research on mental health training for probation officers, with concerns surrounding the growing numbers of probationers with mental illnesses — but what about the officers themselves? How does their job influence their ongoing mental health? [1]

Being a probation officer is a stressful job. Data shows that stress levels have increased in recent years because of greater violence by offenders on parole and probation. This exposes officers to violence and opens the doors for threats. Combined with excess paperwork and high caseloads, the life of a probation officer isn’t a walk in the park. [2]

However, help is available. Addressing the mental health of probation officers creates a trickle-down effect, allowing them to perform better at work while being more present at home. If you or your loved one can relate, here is what you need to know — and how to receive help.

Mental Health Concerns Among Probation Officers

Probation officers deal with offenders at each stage of the criminal justice system, which is tough. Some of these offenders have a violent past, which increases the risk that officers will be exposed to potentially traumatic events.

Being a probation officer can be dangerous, with between 39% and 55% of officers falling victim to work-related violence or threats. Depending on the severity of this violence, the officer may experience some level of trauma. Those with pre-existing mental health conditions face an even higher risk. [2]

For example, primary traumatic stress can occur after an officer experiences an extreme event, such as stalking, assault, threats of death, or witnessing violence/suicide. According to the National Institute of Corrections, 28% of probation officers have experienced four or more primary traumatic incidents, 22% have experienced three, 20% have experienced two, 17% have experienced one, and 13% haven’t experienced one.

Secondary traumatic stress is also a concern, caused by compassion fatigue. Meaning, probation officers begin to experience trauma symptoms because of what they are exposed to — the pain and suffering of others. This can take a significant toll on one’s mental health. [3]

Other concerns include depression, anxiety, emotional and physiological stress, burnout, and decreased satisfaction with family and work. [4]

Recommended reading: Trauma and Mental Health: Facts, Symptoms, and More

The Stigma Surrounding Probation Officers and Mental Health

Much like first responders and military personnel, probation officers are in a role that requires them to be strong leaders. These officers are typically in charge of assessing the mental health of others, which can make it tough for them to admit they need help themselves.

When studying juvenile probation officers, it’s been found that an estimated 60–70% live with substance-related or mental health issues. The stigma surrounding mental health appears to be an issue. This is important to acknowledge, not only for the health and well-being of probation officers but also for probationers. If a probation officer is struggling with their mental health, their symptoms may negatively affect case management. [5]

Unfortunately, the longer diminishing mental health is ignored, the worse it can get. For example, untreated mental illness can lead to chronic physical health issues, instability in your life, violent behavior, problems at home, and job loss. Untreated anxiety may lead to severe panic attacks, untreated trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and the list goes on.

Treating Mental Health Conditions — Here’s What You Need to Know

Although probation officers may be affected by any mental health condition, some of the top concerns include depression, anxiety, and trauma. Regardless of what symptoms you or your loved ones are facing, an individualized treatment plan is imperative to your ongoing success.

There is a range of evidence-based treatment options available, which is why choosing the right combination for you is so imperative to your recovery process. Even when you have the same diagnosis as others, your unique experiences, goals, and needs will determine your individualized treatment plan.

 

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Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, allows individuals to explore their behaviors and feelings to gain more optimal coping skills.

Research shows that psychotherapy can improve symptoms in a wide array of mental illnesses, with the most popular types being:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):This common therapy focuses on your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. The goal is to uncover unhealthy patterns that may lead to self-destructive behavior.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR):Often used to address symptoms of PTSD, EMDR can help reduce the emotional distress that develops from traumatic memories.
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT):Based on CBT, this therapy was first developed to treat borderline personality disorder but has since been adapted to treat a wide spectrum of mental health conditions. The goal here is to find a balance between acceptance and change. [6]

Complementary Approaches

Although psychotherapy is often the backbone of many treatment plans, there is a wide range of alternative methods that can help address your individual goals and needs. Sometimes, traditional methods simply aren’t enough. For some, these alternative approaches can lead to a breakthrough that supports ongoing recovery.

At Mending Fences, we offer a range of alternative treatment options, including:

  • Art therapy:If you struggle to communicate how you’re feeling, art therapy can be highly beneficial. This form of therapy can help you work through your past experiences to process your emotions. If you’re someone who is drawn to art and creative expression, this can also be incredibly relaxing.
  • Adventure therapy:Adventure therapy goes hand-in-hand with promoting an active, healthy lifestyle. By participating in this form of therapy, you will enjoy exercise and a greater connection with the natural world. For example, you could be given the opportunity to paddleboard and practice meditation while benefiting from intensive therapy with a licensed team.
  • Equine-assisted psychotherapy: Horses are highly in tune with human emotions. This form of psychotherapy involves activities with horses to promote better mental and physical health. This unique experience will help you develop self-confidence, emotional regulation, and responsibility.

Mending Fences Is Here for You

Whether you or your loved one need help, professional treatment is just one phone call away. Being a probation officer means that you are exposed to unique circumstances and events, many of which contribute to feelings of anxiety, depression, and trauma. At Transformations at Mending Fences, we understand that. We understand that your job has put you in situations that place your mental health at risk.

Through our individualized treatment plans, you will gain access to the program that best suits your needs. From residential treatment to partial hospitalization, we offer a range of programs that address many mental health conditions as well as substance abuse disorders.

Depending on what you strive to overcome and what you hope to gain from treatment, your treatment plan will be created accordingly. For some, family therapy is extremely important. After all, mental health and addiction can affect everyone — spouses, parents, children, friends, etc. Those closest to you must understand what you have gone through and how you can overcome the challenges you continue to face.

Have questions or want to discuss your unique situation? We’re here for you, call our team today!

  1. Tomar, N. et al. Statewide mental health training for probation officers: improving knowledge and decreasing stigma. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5688049/
  2. Kuck, S.and Finn, P. Stress Among Probation and Parole Officers. Retrieved from https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/205620.pdf
  3. Secondary Trauma: The Personal Impact of Working with Criminal Offenders. Retrieved from https://nicic.gov/secondary-trauma-personal-impact-working-criminal-offenders
  4. Norman, M. Operational and organisational stressors in community correctional work: Insights from probation and parole officers in Ontario, Canada. Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0264550520984253
  5. Dir, A. et al. Burnout and Mental Health Stigma Among Juvenile Probation Officers. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374158/
  6. Psychotherapy. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Treatments/Psychotherapy