Mental Health Awareness in Prisons

Article written by
Emma Thorpe
May 19, 2023

We are exploring Mental Health Awareness in Prisons during Mental Health Awareness Week. Mental health has been a popular topic of discussion this month, and we want to delve in to an area that isn't often talked about - mental health awareness in prisons. Despite the fact that it is an important issue, it can be difficult to comprehend why it hasn't received more attention. In prisons, inmates are often dealing with a range of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

The prison environment can exacerbate these mental health issues, due to factors such as the stress of confinement, lack of privacy and exposure to violence. Many prisoners do not receive adequate mental health care, due to a lack of resources and funding. The stigma surrounding mental illness in society is even more pronounced in prisons, where inmates are often seen as "crazy" or "dangerous."

Improving mental health care in prisons can have a positive impact on the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates back in to society. More attention needs to be given to mental health awareness in prisons, including the need for increased funding and resources for mental health care. It's important to remember that inmates are still human beings who deserve access to proper healthcare, including mental health care. Some important information demonstrates the importance of mental health care in prisons:

1. 45% of adults in prison have anxiety or depression

2. Prisoners are more likely than people in the community to develop mental health issues

3. There were over 52,000 reported incidents of self-harm in the 12 months to June 2022 in England and Wales

4. There were 677 suicides by males and females in prisons in England and Wales between 2008 and 2019


Entering the prison system can be a daunting and anxiety inducing experience. We had the chance to talk to a former prisoner, Naman Jawaid, about some of the mental health challenges he faced while in prison in England for fraud, as a result of a gambling addiction.

RRF: What were the main anxieties you experienced in prison?

Naman: I would say the anxiety of not knowing what the next steps are, at least until you have settled. As a first-time prisoner there was a lot of anxiety in terms of, who am I going to meet? Where am I going to go? What can I not say to who? How long will certain things take – like organising phone calls and money? The anxieties longer term were like, what is the outside world like now, in terms of how are things still moving and what is going on? You have a lot of time to overthink absurd things. There was a lot of anxiety and thought about what am I going to do when I get out of prison? How am I going to go about it? You name it, you are thinking about everything as your reality as you know it is taken away from you. I was in prison with a man who was serving 17 years, who when he came out was trying to catch up on so much, like the evolution of smart phones, there is no gradual progression for some people serving longer sentences.

RRF: Was there any support for your mental health in prison?

Naman: By word of mouth there was support, but the support was never actually given. In the first prison I was in, I put in around 15-20 applications asking to see someone about my mental health and no one got back to me. I found out that one of the staff who worked on the mental health team was on the wing at that time, I went over to her and asked what was going on and told her I was really struggling and she told me that everyone was struggling and that there was a massive waiting list. This made my anxiety go through the roof. I then went to another prison, where I had very limited counselling. I went in with a gambling addiction, I felt that I was given no help for my addiction, despite the Judge who gave me my sentence promising that I would get the help I needed for my addiction in prison. I didn’t get a single day. I was running around like a mad man in there, trying to get the help I needed. I even spoke to the Governor directly, who although was very helpful, my release date was approaching, so it was too late. Not only could I not get the help for my gambling addiction, but I couldn’t get any real support for my other mental health needs.

RRF: Since your release from prison, what were the lasting impacts on your mental health/gambling addiction, and what additional support did you receive?

Naman: Yes, there have been. As soon as I was released, I went back to gambling. When I came out, I was very motivated to change my ways. I wanted to get help and support and thought seeing my probation officer would give me this, but it didn’t. One time, after gambling a lot, I contacted my probation officer and got no response from her despite many attempts to arrange an in-person visit, the next time I heard from her was an email telling me that my electronic tag was being removed. There was a real lack of support and empathy. I did put in a formal complaint as I was severely depressed and suicidal, I felt I had nothing left and was getting no support. My ex-girlfriend and now close friend, helped me a lot and I have been in recovery now since 2020. I had to seek my own support outside of the criminal justice system.

It is clear that at almost every level, mental health in prisons is often overlooked. This is hard to understand given all of the information and the powerfulness of talking to a former prisoner about his experiences. There is still so much that needs to be done to not only raise awareness of this issue, but to rethink and make changes so that prisoners can get the mental health support that they so desperately need.

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