Mental health still remains one of the most taboo subjects within modern society today; sufferers are often left feeling alone and marginalised. However, recent campaigns have come to public attention in order to tackle the very real issue. The same cannot be said for mental health within the prison system, very little is reported in terms of statistics and authorities tend to attempt to brush the issue under the carpet.
There is however a wealth of research regarding mental health and its dominance in the prison system. As a result, there is actually a shocking number of individuals who suffer with mental health issues. As many as 70% of the UK prison population has two or more mental health disorders (Social Exclusion Unit, 2004). The research also found that male prisoners were 14 times more likely to have two or more disorders, and women were a staggering 35 times more likely than the general population.
An article published in September by the Independent detailed the terrifying rise in prison suicides in the last year, with a percentage rise of 64%. As more individuals with mental health issues make their way into the prison system, both staff and facilities struggle to cope and prisoners suffer as a consequence.
There are several measures required in order to tackle the taboo subject, as well as practical legislation needed. At a grass roots level it is so necessary that we as a society accept the fact that people are affected by mental health. I would hope that most people are aware that 1 in every 4 people will be affected by a mental disorder in their life. This statistic alone is enough to see why so many prisoners mental health suffers. A high percentage of the prison population comes from areas of poverty, low employment, poor education and difficulties or violence at home, all these issues coupled together is a recipe for mental instability. Therefore encouraging people to recognise and acknowledge that something must be done in order to tackle this overwhelming issue is really important. Furthermore, the Prison Service introduced suicide and self-harm procedures almost a decade ago, perhaps it is time for a review of the measures considering the alarming rise in mental health related incidents, including better implementation of these procedures by all staff, as well as those trained specifically for the purpose of harm prevention.
On the other hand we should emphasise the fact that staff are able to ‘tackle the issue’ and save prisoners from harming themselves further everyday, and that perhaps despite the real negatives of an increase in those harming themselves due to mental health issues, there are many who are able to stabilise or overcome their difficulties and this is because of prison staff. It is so very important that we remember to praise those who are helping to rehabilitate prisoners every day and that this rise in mental health issues is because a lack of societal faith in our prison system can sometimes creep into the system itself.
A. Ticehurst, B.A. (Hons) Criminology