Sunday 26 May 2024

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The magazine of the Public Service Association of NSW and the Community and Public Sector Union (NSW Branch)

Avoiding Burnout In Correctives

Avoiding Burnout In Correctives

Who in their right mind would want to work in Corrections, asks Welfare Officer Trish O’Brien.

People choose a career in the state’s prisons for a variety of reasons, says Corrective Services NSW/ PSA Welfare Officer Trish O’Brien, herself a Prison Officer.

“Whether it’s for the pay packet, the ‘making a difference’ or knowing we are keeping the public safe, we work in one of the hardest and least recognised jobs out there,” she said. “We put on our uniform every day and walk into a centre where residents don’t want to be.”

Ms O’Brien said inmates employ overt means to resist authority, such as violence, manipulation and more, making each day a challenge.

Poor staffing levels take a further toll.

“We have had overcrowding, work short- staffed and most recently have had to deal with COVID-19,” she said. “All this can wear down even the most resilient Officers.

“When an Officer frequently calls in sick, ‘burnout’ is one of the most common reasons. We need to know what causes burnout, how to recognise its negative effects and what can be done to counteract it as well as prevent it.”

The underlying cause of burnout is unmanaged stress. Stress can be different for each person “Some may say it is the inmates, others say being short staffed, others say management,” said Ms O’Brien. “It could even be the shift work.”

Stress is the event, person or circumstance that triggers a physical and mental reaction, or the nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it.

“We deal with about every type of criminal in existence, including their behavioral issues,” said Ms O’Brien. “When a serious incident occurs, we recognise the threat, we face it and deal with it. Our body and mind go into survival mode, we assess and act appropriately.

“Our adrenaline goes up and then when the incident is over, we try to get our body and mind into the pre-incident state.

“If we cannot get ourselves to calm down and reset, the negative effects of the stress of the incident will accumulate over time. The more we do not manage stress, the more exhausted we become – and that is how burnout develops.

“When we first start in Corrections, we are enthusiastic, filled with energy. We have a full tank of petrol. After a while, the petrol starts to run out, we become fatigued and tired. We may develop negative coping skills such as drinking, smoking or ‘vegging out’ in front of the TV. “After this; we can start having chronic symptoms, we may feel sick, we could have headaches and other ailments. We could be angry and irritable. This leads to the crisis stage and we physically become more unwell.

“Finally, we hit the wall, our anger is out of control and the simplest things can trigger outbursts.”

The mental negativity and physical ailments of burning out are intertwined. Burnout as a state of chronic stress leads to physical and emotional exhaustion, detachment, cynicism, and feelings of little or no accomplishment and ineffectiveness. Symptoms include chronic fatigue, insomnia, impaired concentration and forgetfulness, physical ailments and lack of appetite, anxiety and depression, anger, and lack of productivity at work.

The first step in combatting burnout is to recognise the scope of the problem – it exists and cannot be ignored. Accumulated, unmanaged stress over the years can result not only in burnout, but also in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

“PTSD is a serious condition that reduces the quality of life,” said Ms O’Brien. “It can end a career and damage long-term relationships.

“Recognising burnout in ourselves is important. Burnout in Corrections is serious. Many of us have broken-down relationships, do not enjoy life, feel fatigued and worn out. Our minds are on the job all the time, we never seem to relax or unwind.

“A career in Corrections is inherently stressful. The stress, if not managed, can lead to burnout, which can in turn have long-term ramifications for your physical and mental health. It can also ruin relationships and do irreparable damage to your professional and personal life.”

Strategies to Combat Burnout

  • Responding quickly to warning signs – speak to a professional
  • Minimise stress in your life
  • Taking quality time for yourself and your family
  • Learning from negative situations or events – look at the good instead of the bad
  • Having a sense of humour
  • Cultivating friends outside of the job
  • Doing what you can to feel better physically
  • Recharging your mental self
  • Focussing on the present moment – when at home, think of home
  • Making your home your stress-free zone
  • Reaching out to others
  • Watching out for each other

Reach out and Get Help

Take steps to counteract the stressors in your life and take back control.

EAP Converge
1300 687 327

13 11 14

Beyond Blue
1300 224 636

1300 789 978

Relationships Australia
1300 364 277

DV Helpline
1800 737 732

Trish O’Brien (CSNSW / PSA Welfare Officer)
0412 120 391

PTSD symptoms include

  • Repeated nightmares
  • Avoiding places and people
  • Feeling of emotional numbness
  • Lack of care toward people around you
  • Feeling depressed, anxious, irritated and have negative moods
  • Feeling that something bad is going to happen, or a sense of panic
  • Excessive worry, concerns
  • Numbing feelings with alcohol and/ or drugs

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