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This fall, McLean Hospital and its Deconstructing Stigma team forged a partnership with the Maine Department of Corrections (MEDOC) to address mental health stigma concerns among the offender population and the correctional staff.
Prison systems across the United States are often on the front lines of delivering mental health care. With approximately 35% of incarcerated men and women in local jails and state prisons estimated to have a serious mental illness—equaling approximately 383,000 individuals nationwide—correctional officers play a critical role in delivering care to inmates. They are often the first to identify mental health concerns and respond to health problems.
While prison staff work to ensure inmates receive the mental health care they need, corrections officers—like many first responders—are hesitant to seek care for themselves. The mental health crisis among prison workers is a silent epidemic, with more than 19% struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and the risk of suicide being 39% higher for corrections officers than for all other professions combined.
MEDOC and McLean Hospital, which has a long-standing commitment to improving the lives of individuals affected by psychiatric disorders, are collaborating to address the needs of inmates and prison staff. Through this partnership, we are building greater awareness of psychiatric disorders and compassion for individuals with mental illness, while delivering high-quality education and training.
A recent study found that prison employees have a rate of PTSD roughly equivalent to war veterans who have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the rate of PTSD, alcoholism, and depression is alarmingly high among corrections officers and prison staff, few seek out mental health services before a crisis occurs. The Maine State Prison (MSP), which houses male inmates, and McLean are seeking to address this issue and in the fall of 2018, launched an initiative focused on developing an awareness campaign and curriculum designed to reduce mental health stigma among corrections officers. As part of this work, we have expanded the Deconstructing Stigma campaign to include compelling stories of MSP staff—including Warden Randall Liberty, who openly discusses his own struggle with PTSD, trainings for prison staff with McLean Hospital mental health clinicians from our LEADER program, the development of toolkits, and access to local and regional mental health resources. In addition, McLean has recorded several gripping podcasts live from the prison.
Nearly 90% of the women incarcerated in the Maine Correctional Center: Women’s Center have experienced trauma, including physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. As a result, these women have lived their lives struggling with untreated depression, anxiety, substance use, eating disorders, and issues related to LGBTQ mental health. Through our collaboration with the prison staff, McLean is bringing the stories of hope and resiliency found in its Deconstructing Stigma campaign to the prison. By sharing these stories on the prison walls and in electronic form, in combination with educational outreach programming, we are working toward improving the conversation around mental health and encouraging inmates to seek treatment that will have a positive and lasting impact on their lives.