Impossible’ pressures causing rise in suicides
PRISON officers spoke of their sorrow yesterday as they remembered colleagues who had taken their own lives due to high stress levels at work.
Suicide and mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder, alcoholism and depression are in direct correlation with work misery, officers said, and also contribute to relationship breakdowns and social isolation.
HMP Wayland delegate Michelle Atkins addressed the Prison Officers Association (POA) annual conference to commemorate a colleague who had killed himself before last Christmas.
She said she was “absolutely sure” the tragedy had been caused by stress as her co-worker had been open in talking about his troubles and the extremely poor work conditions they endured.
Another delegate spoke of the suicide of a female officer which was attributed to long hours and prison pressures caused by low-staff numbers.
The link between work stress and poor mental health has been highlighted by an independent health and wellbeing survey carried out by the University of Bedfordshire.
Dr Gail Kinman, who led the research, said that conclusions drawn from the 1,680 responses from prison officers in England and Wales had been “really worrying.
” None of the six Health & Safety Executive management standards were met, according to the survey, which was published to coincide with mental health awareness week.
In a nine-day diary — involving seven consecutive 11-hour shifts — one officer reported , self-harm and suicide of prisoners happened every day except one.A disturbing 84 per cent of respondents said that they felt pressured to go to work when ill, with governors “constantly” calling sick officers, even on the first day of bed rest, to ask when they would return. “This is one of the most important findings of the survey,”
Dr Kinman said.And in a wretched testament to the toll that overcrowded and understaffed prisons have taken on workers, the average life expectancy after retirement was found to be only 18 months.
Three-quarters of those surveyed admitted fears over whether they would be able to carry out their role and receive full pensions by reaching retirement age, currently set at 68.
Andy Hamlin, a delegate from HMP Elmley, said that “employers do not give a rat’s backside about our health and wellbeing.”Prison officer numbers were cut by 41 per cent during the five-year Conservative-led coalition and the POA fears that the dire situation will get even worse under an even crueller Tory majority government.
Joe Simpson, of the POA national executive council, urged delegates to download the report to send to their MPs.He said: “We want to live in dignity and decency after much hard work in public service.
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