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Mental health in prison

A short guide for prison staff

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Over 10.35 million people are in prison globally, and prisoners have a disproportionately high rate of mental ill-health; research suggests that around one in seven prisoners has a serious mental health condition. Women in prison are known to have more complex and higher levels of mental health conditions than men, much of which is linked to trauma from previous violence that they have suffered.

There is widespread stigma and discrimination towards people with mental ill-health, and mental health conditions are often misunderstood.

Protecting mental well-being and addressing mental ill-health are two of the most challenging issues in prisons worldwide. The set-up of prison healthcare varies from country to country, and many prisons do not have the resources to provide adequate mental healthcare for both prisoners and staff.

Prison staff face the consequences of supervising people with mental ill-health on a daily basis, yet frequently do not receive the necessary training or support. Appropriate responses to mental ill-health help create better working conditions and safer work places for prison staff. The promotion, protection and restoration of mental health in prisons are also vital measures for prisoner rehabilitation and their safe reintegration back into the community.