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Mental Health Matters

By Alexander Delorme, Communications Staff

Nov 29, 2023

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“If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that the most important thing is taking care of my mental health.” 

Mack Branch is a Correctional Peace Officer in Lethbridge and Chair of AUPE Local 003. As someone who has worked in the sector for over 13 years, he has witnessed violent and disturbing events—events that are frequent in correctional centres across the province—and carries that weight every day he returns home from work. 

Branch has seen it all, and yet, a union meeting changed his perspective on his job and his life forever. 

One day, at a routine union council meeting, a fellow Local 003 member shared their history of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, including how it was caused at work. Branch found himself relating to their story and decided to investigate whether he also suffered from PTSD. 

Branch booked an appointment with a psychologist. He received a cumulative trauma diagnosis after just two sessions. 

Branch’s story is all too common. Mental health concerns are a widespread issue for Local 003 members, and the problem is made worse because Branch and workers like him do not receive the same support as staff at other law enforcement agencies, such as robust mental health services, expanded benefits, and comparable wages. 

“We deal with a lot of traumatic events at work,” says Branch. “We are so behind the times, and because of that we are seeing high turnover, sick leaves, and people suffering in silence.” 

There is no shortage of such examples. Highway patrol sheriffs are often first on the scene of fatal car accidents. Sheriffs working in court experience trials that involve violent images and testimony, including incidents involving children. Probation Officers deal with overwhelming caseloads, not to mention graphic and disturbing details while rehabilitating those they oversee. Correctional Officers like Branch—who make up over 50 per cent of Local 003—are exposed to countless morbid incidents, such as suffering from and witnessing assault. 

Learning about his coworkers’ struggles and receiving his own diagnosis changed Branch’s life. As Local 003 Chair, he is focused on fighting for better mental health support for his members. 

“Goals like these are often achieved one step at a time, and I get the sense members are ready to walk that path no matter how many steps it takes.”
Bobby-Joe Borodey 2023

Bobby-Joe Borodey, Vice-President

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AUPE Vice-President Bobby-Joe Borodey has worked closely with Local 003 for several years. She can attest to the problem’s severity and the members’ dedication to supporting each other. 

“Mental health matters to all of us, especially those whose jobs carry a high risk of traumatic and dangerous events,” says Borodey. “I am inspired by everything Mack and Local 003 are doing to address the challenges and help their fellow AUPE members.” 

These members’ efforts are beginning to get results. The Deputy Minister who oversees the sector has recently approved staff wearing PTSD support ribbons at work, which the Local provides to members at no cost. The Local also commissioned “Mental Health is Health” t-shirts, which sold out at AUPE’s latest Convention. 

Additionally, some employers are taking mental health more seriously, making progress on getting access to programs such as the Wayfound group, Critical Incident Stress Management training, and a peer-support program. 

“We have made progress, but there is still a lot of work to do,” says Borodey. “Goals like these are often achieved one step at a time, and I get the sense members are ready to walk that path no matter how many steps it takes.” 

Some of that work includes many more conversations with members—to hear their stories and organize for change—as well as conversations with employers to ensure they take members’ concerns seriously. 

According to Branch, parity with crown prosecutors is the ultimate goal, as they receive anonymous, judgement-free counselling at their employer’s expense, something he hopes to address in bargaining. 

All that work and all those goals may seem like an impossible challenge, but do you think that shakes Branch’s resolve? Not a chance. 

“Even if all this helps just one person, it’s worth it,” he says. “If we can help people lose that stigma and reach out for help, then all of this is worth it. 

“If you recover loudly, you help those who suffer in silence.” 

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