I have shared a few posts and my own thoughts over the years about prisons becoming the place we “hide” people who are dealing with a variety of mental health issues. The one thing I haven’t been able to give you is a first-hand experience, so when I saw Bryony (not her real name) talking about her experience in a UK prison, I thought I would share this as well. So what is it like to be in prison when your crime was really a result of bipolar disorder?
“Is prison really the best place for people who are mentally unwell? It is difficult to capture just how claustrophobic a prison cell is. “Lock-up!” an officer would bellow, and we would all rush to our cells. There it was just me, my thoughts and four walls. It was impossible to sleep, with the screaming and shouting of other prisoners.
Sometimes, when there were staff shortages, we were locked up for 24 hours a day. I have no doubt that the dehumanising nature of being locked away for most of the day made my mental illness – later diagnosed as bipolar disorder – worse in every possible way. I saw a psychiatrist who started me on anti-psychotic medication, but the delusions that had landed me in prison for arson in the first place grew stronger. I never turned on the television in my cell because my illness made me think the newsreaders were speaking to me. I was too scared to eat anything in case someone had drugged my food.”
This, obviously is one story, but read the whole article to see some more statistics on just how many women in UK prison have poor mental health, some as a result of trauma, some just a result of illness alone.
There is a direct link between the growing prison population and the lack of mental health resources. The only difference is that we can scare people into paying to build more prisons and keep “dangerous people” away from us. It’s much harder to convince people to invest in prevention through mental health treatment, even if that would be much more effective in protecting everyone.