Stress, post-traumatic stress disorder and coping mechanisms amongst correctional officers : and exploratory study.
Correctional services are viewed as a high-risk profession, given the exposure to violence and other stressors that characterises the work. These factors contribute to occupational stress and the possible development of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among correctional officers. There is an abundance of intemational literature on the development of PTSD in various populations, but almost no literature that examines the prevalence of PTSD amongst correctional officers in other countries as well as in South Africa. This study is aimed at exploring occupational stress, PTSD and coping strategies in South African correctional officers, using demographic data, the Impact of Events Scale-Revised, the Occupational Stress Indicator and the Coping Resources Inventory. Results, as measured by the Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R), revealed that correctional officers who worked directly with prisoners, and were therefore exposed to violence, experienced PTSD symptoms. Coping style findings (Coping Resources Inventory) showed that unmarried officers tended to use avoidance coping strategies to deal with occupational stress, whereas married officers tended to use approach coping strategies. It seems that marriage is a protective factor or buffer against stress. Surprisingly, results of the Occupational Stress Inventory did not reveal high levels of stress overall amongst correctional officers. Higher occupational stress was found amongst officers who had been in the correctional services for more than six years. The implications of the above findings indicate that correctional officers, who suffer from PTSD and occupational stress, must be identified and treated. The study further hopes that the findings and associated recommendations made can inform prevention and intervention programmes in the correctional services. Prevention and intervention programmes should impact at the level of the individual and the organisation through programmes such as stress management, stress inoculation and critical incident stress debriefing as well as, structural administrative and environmental change programmes within the correctional services.