Compiling the data on correctional officer suicide rates in Canada
By Elina Feyginberg
“Correctional officers exposed to trauma in the line of duty face potentially unpleasant and disabling after-effects. Appropriate and timely intervention lessens the impact on the officer, by reducing personal stress. Intervention also helps the organization as it can facilitate the recovery of an officer’s level of performance to that before the incident, and can decrease the likelihood of long-term disability leave.
Persistent psychological problems have been identified among a variety of individuals exposed to unusually traumatic or life-threatening events. It has been documented that the distress caused by such incidents can continue over extensive periods and severely impair functioning.”
– Correctional Services Canada, Forum on Corrections Research, Volume 4, March 5, 2015
This statement was taken directly from the archives on the Correctional Services Canada website and could not be closer to the truth with respect to the daily struggles of correctional officers across Canada. The academic research conducted in this forum suggests the correlation between occupational stressors and personal health and well-being of correctional officers is an alarmingly strong factor, and that there is a definite parallel between the nature of a correctional officer’s job and the long-term health and mental health effects.
Throughout my continuous research into the subject, however, I continue to struggle to find any relevant Canadian statistical data on correctional officer PTSD and other mental health diagnosis, as well as the correctional officer suicide rate in Canada; the truth is it unfortunately “silently” exists.
In this blog, I wanted to focus my research on correctional officer suicide rates in Canada and as I combed through many government and scholarly sources, it was a definite struggle to find any tangible numbers. Not having much luck with academic sources, I decided to compile my own data by researching individual stories, newspaper articles and local news reports across the country. I hope this recently compiled data will be a starting point for anyone who may wish to further this research in the future.
Here are my findings:
There were at least eight documented correctional officer suicides in Canada between 2013 and 2015.
According to the statistics gathered by Tema Counter Memorial Trust, there were also eight documented correctional officer deaths by suicide since January 2018, five of which were correctional officers from Ontario. These are the only documented numbers and they were incredibly difficult to track down.
It is unfortunate that neither federal nor provincial organizations in Canada are keeping/disclosing these statistics. I can only speculate there may be many more undocumented cases. Several underlying issues may be the reason why someone would consider suicide as the only viable option. Currently, the widely accepted medical position is that there is usually a history of depression or other comorbid mental health afflictions. These conditions are not stand alone, rather they may likely be brought on by unaddressed operational stress injuries sustained in the workplace.
In 2016, the Ontario Workers’ Safety and Insurance Board recognized PTSD as a condition suffered by Emergency Services and Correctional Services staff. One would hope that relevant statistics would be kept and shared with the public, especially given the current climate in seriously accepting and treating work-related stress injuries.
“I don’t think any attention has been brought forth about life as a correctional officer and that makes it difficult even for us as an organization to get information either from the federal or provincial corrections organizations as a whole,” says Vince Savoia, Tema Counter Memorial Trust.
I have received similar feedback from a number of mental health organizations across Canada, confirming that suicide rates and mental health statistics on Canadian correctional officers are incredibly difficult to find, as they simply aren’t kept by any statistical or governing body.
The ever-difficult daily job of a correctional officer involving assaults, overcrowding, staff shortages, murders, riots, hostage takings, compiled with long hours in a confined environment has led researchers to conclude that mental health issues are on the rise among correctional officers. So why is it that correctional employers across Canada have not kept any documented data?
Ultimately recognizing these issues, if left unattended, may lead to desperation resulting in suicide is the first step to potential suicide prevention among correctional officers. Keeping track of numbers will allow researchers to develop statistical data to be presented to correctional employers in hopes of affecting policy changes that will more appropriately address the mental health issues among Canadian correctional staff.
Elina Feyginberg worked for Ontario Corrections between 2003 and 2012. She is currently working as an executive at an insurance firm and owns a corporate health and safety training company as well as a non-profit that promotes education for PTSD among correctional officers and first responders. Elina is continuing to further her education in the field of addictions and mental health.