"Jail can be scary"... mental health in prison

We are delighted to be launching ‘How to look after your mental health in prison, a guide for male prisoners’, a new addition to our ‘How to Look after your Mental Health’ series.  

“Jail can be scary, the unfamiliar surroundings, the loud noises, a routine that revolves around time….” (a quote from a prisoner in HMP & YOI Parc Bridgend) 

Prison and the crisis of unmet mental health needs 

Currently in the prison system there is a crisis of unmet mental health needs. The Institute of Psychiatry estimated that: 

  • Over half of prisoners have poor mental health including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety
  • Around 15% of prisoners have specialist mental health needs 
  • Around 2% are thought to have acute and serious mental health problems  
  • Self-harm incidents also rose by 73% between 2012 and 2016

Over half of prisoners have poor mental health including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety 

At the Mental Health Foundation, we specialise in public mental health policy and research, and co-produce (work with you) initiatives across the life course (from your early to later years) to support people to understand, protect and sustain their mental health.  

The importance of self-management and peer-support 

Over the past decade, the Foundation has been a key innovator in the UK on developing and implementing programmes focused on self-management (looking after your own mental health) in peer-support (helping each other) settings. These programmes have used the best available evidence base in their development and have tested and adapted similar approaches in different settings and populations including school children, young mums, prisoners and people in later life. 

Working with prisoners to create their guide 

The booklet ‘How to look after your mental health in prison, a guide for male prisoners’ was co-produced with prisoners from Parc Prison, Wales. They took part in a self-management programme, run by MHF in partnership with G4S, which delivered peer support courses to vulnerable prisoners at HMP &YOI Parc Bridgend, between October 2013 and December 2016: 

“Jail can be scary, the unfamiliar surroundings, the loud noises, a routine that revolves around time….” (a quote from a prisoner in HMP & YOI Parc Bridgend) 

The expressive charcoal drawings which illustrate the booklet were made at a creative evaluation workshop for the self-management work. They provide a glimpse into the experience of being in prison and the positive impact the self-management courses had on their mental health. 

The environment of prison can have an impact on mental health 

Being in prison, is by intention, a very difficult experience.  The environment, the rules and regulations and lack of personal control can all have an impact on prisoner’s mental health.  Older prisoners, those with a physical or learning disabilities, and other vulnerable groups are especially at risk of experiencing poor mental health whilst in prison. 

Our booklet includes ten tips to good mental health in prison 

The booklet encourages prisoners through ten tips to good mental health in prison to prioritise looking after their mental health. In order to be able to: cope better with life in the prison environment, improve wellbeing and build better support networks with family, other inmates and professionals who can help. The booklet is also available in a summary version for people with poor literacy skills. 

Our future aims for supporting prisoners mental health 

We are hoping to co-produce additional booklets in the future to be part of addressing all prisoners’ mental health needs, including women prisoners, people with learning difficulties and people in later life, to better manage their mental health in prison. 

Join our movement

As Jolie says, we want to help support prisoners mental health. But we can't do it by ourselves. We need your help. Donate today and join our movement!

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References: 

  1. National Audit Office (29 June 2017) Mental Health in Prisons. Retrieved from: https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Mental-health-in-priso...
  2. House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts (6 December 2017) Mental Health in Prisons. Eighth report of session 2017-19. Retrieved from: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/400/400...