We asked participants four open-ended questions regarding their perspectives and experiences with R2MR training. The results section is thus divided into four parts and presents the most predominant themes and other nuances found in response to each question. First, we discuss what participants found most helpful about R2MR training. Second, we show what participants recollected from their training. Third, we identify the learned skills respondents believe will be the most challenging to implement in practice. Lastly, we discuss the learned skills respondents believe will be the easiest to implement.
What did you find most helpful about R2MR training?
In total, 12 of 98 respondents (12%) discussed explicitly how the objective of the R2MR program of de-bunking and reducing mental health stigma in public safety professions was the most helpful aspect of their training. Respondents wrote, for example, “reduce stigma” (MB48); “handling stigma and debunking myths” (SK483); “overcoming the stigma of mental health to ask for help” (NS22); and “reducing the stigma surrounding mental health” (NS73). These participants all acknowledge that mental health stigma in Canadian correctional work remains predominant (Johnston et al., 2021, 2022; Ricciardelli, 2020b) and often serves as a “huge barrier to why people do not reach out” (NS171). However, participants believe R2MR training works to reduce stigma by facilitating “open discussions” (YT18) and “open communication” (NS33) about mental health and by providing staff with resources and strategies to “handle” or “de-bunk” (SK483) stigma.
NS112 further extrapolates the positive implications of an increasingly open dialogue about mental health in the workplace through a training initiative in writing, “I learned that I was not alone. Made me feel better about myself. Learned different ways to deal with mental illness”. NS112’s words reveal how bringing together colleagues to discuss and learn better strategies for dealing with mental health concerns, stigma, and barriers formed a community – a space where they could understand that other workers around them may be dealing with similar challenges, and thus could work together to help one another cope or “feel better.” In some cases, R2MR and the newly formed community helped correctional workers understand more about their mental health struggles. For example, NS36 realized how the training “helped [them] recognize [they] had situational anxiety.” NL69 exclaimed that “it [R2MR] saved my life”, which emphasizes how R2MR training, by virtue of fostering open dialogue about mental health, can encourage correctional workers receiving the training to speak out about their concerns, who, prior to completing it, may have been struggling alone.
Another 13 of 98 respondents (13%) explained the most helpful aspect of R2MR training, beyond better recognition of their own mental health status or “need for self-care” (NS12), was the specific resources and techniques R2MR provided to help identify problems emerging in their colleagues, incarcerated people, or others around them more generally. For instance, respondents wrote of how R2MR helped them to develop “understanding, recognizing when someone may need support” (MB63) or “symptoms of mental illness; ways to approach a patient of mental illness and possible helpers to reach-out to” (MB244). Further, respondents felt able to “better recognize mental health issues in co-workers and deploy better strategies to discuss these issues” (NS44) and had “training in recognizing mental health disorders in offenders” (NS130); “I found it helpful when dealing with offenders and with co-workers” (NB19). The training helped with the processes of “recognizing signs and acceptance of those whom are in distress” (YT31). Consistent across these excerpts is how adequate mental health extends beyond simple recognition of a problem; as such, R2MR training provides proactive strategies to help correctional workers respond to emerging issues in others and helps workers better “understand” and “accept” people experiencing mental health problems.
Five of 98 (5%) respondents specified in detail the skills, resources, or networks they found most helpful from their R2MR training. These include techniques of de-escalation (e.g., “learning how with the power of words to make a bad situation calm” (NS18)) and resources for support: “list of contacts to offer as direction to individuals in crisis” (NS58); “I received a list of places I could get help if need be” (NL65)). Here, NS18 references how sharing a few encouraging and impactful words with someone experiencing a “bad situation” in relation to their mental health can make great strides toward de-escalating the situation. NL65 then cites that receiving a list of resources they can access in the event of experiencing distress, a mental health need or vulnerability was also helpful. Additional skills valued were “learning to talk with people who have mental health issues” (NS62) and “talking about support networks and how many people suffer” (NS71). NS62 expresses how communication skills were learned through R2MR, while, perhaps more implicitly, NS71 iterates that learning how to build support networks not only can lessen the impact of adverse mental health, but may also help workers realize just how often correctional workers suffer as a consequence of their occupational roles, responsibilities, or other life stressors.
Can you provide examples about what you remember about R2MR?
In R2MR training, instructors teach participants how to identify their mental health status on a continuum model comprised of “healthy, reacting, injured, or ill” and “The Big 4” actions to take at each phase of the continuum (“goal setting,” “positive self-talk,” “visualization,” and “tactical breathing”; Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2017). In total, 15 of 60 respondents (25%) identified recalling the mental health continuum and how best to navigate the continuum. To exemplify the former, respondents recalled the “Mental Health Continuum” (MB48) and “The Chart mostly of what to look for in people around you and where they fall into the different stages (NS74)”. Regarding the latter, respondents wrote “goal setting, positive self-talk, focusing drills” (SK295), “healthy coping strategies, Big 4” (NB19), and “tactical breathing, visualization” (NL13). Though 75% of respondents (45) did not indicate recalling the chart, it is important to clarify that this finding does not mean respondents did not necessarily derive meaning from the mental health continuum chart but may have used the space in the survey question to simply elaborate on other items of recall. Thus, we still argue these survey responses demonstrate the effectiveness tied to the presentation of mental health identification in a simple and easy-to-visualize chart that articulates clearly the ways people can move around a complex continuum aimed at identifying their mental health status.
The value and necessity of peer support was another recalled theme 6 of 60 respondents (10%) identified. For example, a selection of respondents wrote “we are in it together, we all share experiences to help one another” (M442); “Importance of peer support” (NS29); and “there are peers at work that you can contact for support, many suffer from mental illness” (NS71). These excerpts demonstrate how staff can complete R2MR training feeling like a team, often because of the power of sharing experiences and acknowledging the prevalence of mental health problems among correctional workers. Moreover, when looking at the situation positively, many correctional workers can offer peer assistance, help, resources, and above all else – reciprocity, empathy, and mutual understanding.
Alongside developing camaraderie and promoting peer assistance, 16 of 60 respondents (17%) recalled the skills they developed tied to how best to respond to someone experiencing mental distress or crisis. Participant MB489 wrote: “how to respond to someone who is suffering and how to recognize someone who is struggling,” while NS51 described learning “how to identify triggers and solutions for potentially provoking crisis situations” (NS51), while others, like YT18, noted learning “crisis intervention.” Given the inevitability that front-line correctional workers will encounter colleagues, prisoners, or visitors in distress, these respondents learned techniques to first recognize and then improve intervention strategies. Some respondents identified precisely different ways to approach someone in distress, like NS90, who wrote learning to identify “signs of those in distress and how to use a calm voice to talk to them, do not try to touch someone in distress in most cases.” NS692 described learning how to “show empathy towards the person and let them talk when they need to and not to judge them.” Such techniques demonstrate the value of employing a caring orientation when interpreting and approaching those in mental distress. In addition, skills taught counter mental health stigma by treating those in crisis as people in need who correctional workers should listen to and not judge, given their state.
An additional 14 of 60 respondents (13%) discussed how exactly R2MR training worked to combat mental health stigma, such as NS64, who wrote, “leader described being stabbed on the job. Got over his own stigma”. In this case, listening to a trainer and colleague discuss their own personal experience with violence, mental health injury, and subsequent battle with stigma provided the correctional worker with a real-world example of how one can reach a positive end in their mental health journey, and then use their experiences to help others. NS91 also wrote, “we learned how to realize we have mental health problems and what resources are out there for us to access. And we learned that there should not be a stigma about mental health”. Here, NS91 came to the realization that correctional workers are disproportionately (and often inevitably) struck by mental health suffering and injury, but there are treatment and other resources available to them that, when accessed, should never produce feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, or stigma.
In summary, these excerpts show the lasting impact R2MR training can have on correctional workers who, by and large, were able to recall many skills learned and how peers can all work to improve workplace mental health.
What skills will be the most challenging to implement and why?
In total, 14 of 51 respondents (27%) discussed the specific skills learned during their R2MR training that would be the most difficult to implement. Muscle relaxation, for instance, was described as hard to engage in at work, as MB48 stated, “progressive muscle relaxation—hard to do effectively at work. Better for helping me sleep”, and MB57 wrote, “progressive muscle relaxation because I lose my focus and feel uncomfortable with it.” Engaging a relaxation or tactical breathing technique requires concentration for effective employment, and many correctional workers may face challenges doing so when confronted with a highly dangerous or volatile situation at work, such as prisoner violence or self-injury. NL82 elaborated on the trickiness of using de-escalation skills during scenarios that require quick-thinking and action: “Deescalating volatile situations,” and NS9 supported this position in stating that “deescalating someone as I would be afraid of saying the wrong thing.” Though these learned skills are effective in theory, NL74 claimed that “skills have to be practiced” to be understood and implemented well, and that their organization does “not giv[e] enough refresher training,” which may make it difficult for some correctional workers to remember and sustain these skills.
In recognition that mental health stigma still permeates many public safety professions, 8 of 51 respondents (16%) expressed, for a number of reasons, that reducing and eliminating stigma in the workplace would be the most challenging task. Here participants wrote that “recognizing and responding as there is a stigma to most of this” (MB231); “breaking down the stigma” (MB435); “getting help, stigma still exists and I don’t trust people to tell them my issues” (NS71); “society to overcome stigma” (NL16). MB231 and MB435 both recognize the work required to break down stigma in their profession, while NS71 and NL16 point out that the problem is entrenched at both the individual and societal levels. More specifically, NS71 identifies how stigma prevents the formation of trust toward colleagues and thus reaching out to peers, perhaps because respondents fear that opening up will back-fire and trigger negative consequences, even though, as discussed earlier, their colleagues may know, understand, and appreciate what they are managing more than anyone else. As NL16 emphasizes implicitly, stigma at the institutional level is influenced by broader societal stigma, and thus the problem is not localized and operates in conjunction with social life and mental health discourses functioning and spreading outside of prison settings.
Another 14 of 51 respondents (27%) described emergent difficulties in trying to reach out to colleagues who may be presenting a mental health problem, or experiencing the challenges associated with identifying and responding to problems emerging in themselves. For instance, MB489 wrote “Having success as all parties have to be onboard and follow through. Trying to have someone talk is difficult if they’re not willing.” NS21 describes “the buy in of staff” as a challenge, while NS22 put forth that “seeking help, not everyone is ready to accept help.” Others, like NS42, described how “getting help or talking to someone” was a barrier or how “it is challenging to recognize when I’m getting stressed to the point of needing to seek mental health support” (NB19). Across excerpts, evidenced is the realization that unless staff become more willing to put into practice R2MR’s efforts to create open, non-judgmental dialogue around mental health and foster an environment that encourages struggling staff to seek help when signs of decline or distress appear, then little change can occur. NS59 further identifies that viewing mental health as a “right” rather than a privilege or an individual problem is a necessary shift in correctional services that will produce better mental health outcomes, as NS171 elaborates, “helping ourselves is our last option most times, we don’t see it as viable or worthy and perhaps that is entrenched in the stigma of mental health.”
Collectively, responses reveal the strong capacity of respondents to identify practical challenges associated with implementing skills learned under R2MR’s training regimen, but alongside the assertion that they are all valuable skills nonetheless that are realized best in caring, non-stigmatized workplace cultures and society.
What skills will be the easiest to implement and why?
Here, 35 of 98 respondents (36%) indicated that changing workplace culture by exercising compassionate, empathetic, and open communication, listening, and social skills would be the easiest change to implement from their R2MR training. NS13 explains “just relating to people” as easy, while “sharing my experience with mental disease to help others” (NS22) and to “try to have more understanding and empathy” (NS57) were also noted, suggesting supportive communication was possible among correctional workers. This was further reinforced by NB19, who felt, “It will be easiest to implement being a part of a supportive environment and promoting positive mental health.” The key to such an environment is “listening” (Y18), as NL84 explains that “listening, cause its most important.” Overall, underpinning these responses is the willingness of correctional workers to be the change they want in their workplace, which they can demonstrate simply by “car[ing] about [their] co-workers” (NS68) and taking the time to make their workplace as supportive of an environment as possible, that includes hearing their peers. NS71 believed they can easily “talk about situations with coworkers because they understand what we go through,” which again, emphasizes the positive relationality and relatedness among staff that R2MR seeks to mobilize in public safety workforces.
Easy-to-implement techniques learned from training were also identified by 32 of 98 respondents (33%). These techniques include: “thought stopping because I now use it many times a day to control racing thoughts and negative self-talk” (MB57); “tactical breathing and self-talk. Can do these anywhere” (MB48); “breathing is easy to use for beginners” (NL11); “active listening, using a calming tone” (NL82); “recognizing persons in distress. Assessment skills are improving” (YT13). These excerpts reveal how, with education and practice, R2MR can provide correctional workers with techniques to help reduce their adverse mental health challenges and improve their awareness, which can be used practically anywhere and across varying contexts. This is important, especially for newer employees who may require easier skills to engage until they gain more experience and practice using the more difficult skills and assessment techniques taught.
SK295 also emphasized the importance of being realistic about one’s expectations of the R2MR training: “goals, breaking them down into realistic goals with checks and balances to not disappoint oneself,” which shows the reflexivity and self-assessment needed throughout the process to determine what skills are working and what are not. NS29 recognized that “self-care” is the easiest skill to implement because it does not “require anybody else’s help.” These words re-emphasize how mental health is a complex, team-effort, and that sometimes individual efforts to reduce adverse mental health outcomes can be easier to engage when one is unsure how to relate to their colleagues and social environment. This resonated particularly in NS50’s words: “believing people when they disclose information,” which again troubles discourses of suspicion in relation to staff bringing forward their mental health struggles, conditions, and illnesses. That said, NS73 recognized that change is happening, albeit gradually in some environments, because “we are all learning more about mental health growing up,” and thus, with more education, resources, and effort, corrections work in Canada will better facilitate good mental health and wellness.