- Research shows the skyrocketing cases of suicides and mental health conditions in prisons.
- Experts say that mental health services in prisons should be made mandatory.
Mental Health In Prisons: A Burning Issue
The mental health of prison inmates is always a debatable topic. Most recently, the rising rates of suicide amongst prison inmates in India have pushed the issue to the forefront.
Most often than not, criminalization stems from untreated mental health disorders (like depression, substance use disorders, etc.), but the act of convicting a person further stigmatizes both his/her mental health and human rights.
It overlooks the reality that incarceration with correctional conditions and no mental health care deteriorates the health conditions of already ill individuals in desperate need of medical care.
Therefore, apart from physical health conditions, emerging studies have revealed that prison inmates and other incarcerated convicts suffer from mental disorders like:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Anxiety disorders
- Substance use disorders (like alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.)
- Mood disorders
- Conduct disorders (related to aggression, violence, etc.)
- Personality disorders
- Suicidal ideation and execution
Insights Into Prisoners’ Poor Mental Health
Research has attributed the poor mental health of prisoners to several factors like:
- The wrongful conviction of a minor crime
- Social isolation from loved ones, especially family
- Strict disciplinary living conditions
- Constant noise and hard laboring conditions
- Lack of self-control that prevents self-determination
- Social stigma around crimes
- Dysfunctional state machinery
- Lack of prison mental health services
Elaborating on the inhuman living conditions generally observed in prisons, American psychotherapist Matt Glowiak remarked: “Essentially, prison is an unnatural mental mind trap that can lead even the most mentally stable of individuals toward mental health crises.”
Mental Healthcare In Prisons
Prison houses and other correctional centers view criminal incarceration with a punishing lens. The goals of incarceration, despite the changing times, emphasize disciplining the criminal and preventing recidivism—thereby overlooking the need for their rehabilitation and successful reintroduction into society.
Because of this, inmates are held accountable for their own behavior and denied basic human rights, including mental health. While most countries have laws about prisoners’ mental health, the legal provisions are rarely implemented properly.
Security concerns and the rising cost of mental health services often make easily accessible treatment options like psychotherapy, stress reduction strategies, and mindfulness techniques limited to the imprisoned.
Providing Prison Mental Health Services
Emerging prison reforms, advocacy for prisoners’ rights, and awareness have highlighted the need for mental health services in prisons. According to experts, people with mental illness who are incarcerated deserve access to appropriate mental healthcare treatment. These include –
- Regular screening
- Regular and timely access to mental healthcare professionals
- Access to psychiatric medication
- Access to rehabilitation facilities
- Access to programs that support recovery
- Access to family, friends, etc.
Mental Health Services In Prisons: The Need Of The Hour
Such services should be a bridge of support that leads prisoners from incarceration through rehabilitation to aftercare in the community. These measures are bound to promote the incarcerated’s quality of life by enabling them to re-enter society as mentally sound and socially valuable individuals.
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