Un-cuff the unhealthy behaviors: Investing in wellness for the good of all.

Author:Ryder-Grebel, Michelle

When asked what "wellness" means to most people, a common response will often include a laundry list of exercise routines, and their attempts at eliminating non-gluten foods, sugar, carbohydrates and processed food from their diet. Wellness is so much more than a strict diet of organic foods, running 5 K's and going to the gym. Wellness is being in good physical and mental health. Because mental health and physical health are linked, problems in one area can impact the other. Wellness is about making wise, healthy choices for both physical and mental well-being. (1) It is not the absence of illness or stress, which is a common thought error made by many people, rather it is the management of the various stressors in life that come from both work and home that play a huge factor. This article will highlight "Eight Dimensions of Wellness" that are essential to living fulfilling, productive lives.

A holistic approach for success

A holistic approach to treatment that encompasses the Eight Dimensions of Wellness for those suffering addictions and behavioral health issues is not necessarily a new concept. However, we often find staff who are providing services within our correctional institutions who are challenged in finding a healthy balance in their own lives. Additionally, they suffer from some of the same issues that our clients are suffering from, and often are in recovery themselves. In efforts to rehabilitate those suffering from behavioral health disorders effectively, correctional professionals should be engaged in their own wellness program. In fact, our agencies should be educating, promoting and implementing health and wellness opportunities and strategies throughout our correctional environments.

When staff are not taking care of themselves, there can be serious implications for those we serve, which can have an overall negative impact on our programs and the safety of the facility. Staff should be addressing these areas for the offenders we serve, and for themselves. Collette Peters, Director of Oregon Department of Corrections, says, "Our Corrections professionals in prisons, jails and in the community have one of the toughest public safety jobs out there! These are stressful professions and unfortunately, the data proves it. We must continue to educate, prepare and support the well-being of our most valuable resource--our corrections professionals. As part of the Oregon Department of Corrections' ten-year strategic plan, employee wellness is one of our primary initiatives. It is our goal to provide access to a variety of evidence-based tools and programs to help them be successful in not only mitigating their work place stressors, but to model wellness in areas of their lives."

The challenges and why wellness matters

For a corrections officer, as well as other correctional professionals, safety is the number one priority in every institution. The environment of a corrections facility, already tense to begin with, is not always conducive to mental well-being or physical health. Occupational stress is an inescapable reality of corrections, and has consequences to an occupational hazard. According to the National Institute of Corrections, it has been estimated that 20 percent of corrections staff, one in five, demonstrate a high level of corrections fatigue. Thirty-one percent of correctional officers are living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)--a number that is similar to rates of PTSD seen in veterans returning from combat, which is about quadruple the national average. Additionally, the Desert Waters Outreach Study confirmed that correctional staff, specifically correctional officers, are reluctant to talk about their feelings and their problems for fear of negative repercussions.

Frank Perrin, both a Marine veteran and a tenured correctional professional, found himself at a point in his life where he was experiencing some negative emotions and an inability to manage stress in a healthy fashion. He was reluctant at first to seek assistance due to his perceived stigma of asking for help. He states, "I kept telling myself I can fight this battle on my own and win, but that was so unreasonable. I felt at the time that receiving counseling is weak. I know now, however, that this was faulty thinking and that not getting help is the true weakness."

According to the Desert Water Outreach Study, it is estimated that about 27 percent of correctional officers are living with depression as well as PTSD. (2) Correctional staff, specifically correctional officers, may feel that if they report how they are feeling they will be passed over for promotions, ridiculed or be perceived as "weak." Some of the unhealthy ways that they manage their stress is often the increased use of alcohol, which can quickly lead to abuse, stress eating, involvement...

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