The Mental Health Effects of Incarceration

Mental illness in America has gotten worse over the years and has lead many directly into the prison system. Los Angeles, Chicago’s Cook County, and New York’s Riker’s Island Jail have all become facilities housing a great many inmates experiencing mental health duress. The number of inmates with mental illness has hit staggering magnitudes with approximately 15% of inmates doing prison time and 20% of inmates in jails suffering from serious mental diseases. With these percentages, the number of identified inmates with mental health issues is well over 350,000. There are more mentally ill inmates than mentally ill in mental health facilities across the United States. This article will address some key questions around the issue of mental health and inmates.

Lack of Mental Health Options for Pre-existing Conditions

Inmates enter the prison system regularly with severe pre-existing mental health issues. Arriving with many different forms of mental disease, the most prevalent issues are psychotic disorder, schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorders. Up to 19% of inmates arrive with depression as one of their mental health conditions, while just above 4% arrive at the facility suffering from bipolar disorders. Many different drugs can bring out negative mental conditions. Marijuana, alcohol, bath salts, Dimethocaine, cocaine, and ecstasy are examples of drugs that can have negative effects on mental health.

Development of Mental Health Conditions in Prison

It is no secret that jails and prisons house very violent offenders and many times these violent inmates conduct more violence while serving time. Many inmates may come across extreme violence during the course of their time served. Being subjected to extreme violence can cause mental health conditions and have a lasting effect on the mind. Jail and prison are violent and just being incarcerated raises the risk of having violence committed against the inmate and also raises the likelihood of witnessing violence. Being involved in violence or merely witnessing can have lasting mental effects on inmates. Violence can become a trigger with many inmates, bringing out negative effects of mental health issues.

Post-Incarceration Syndrome

Post-Incarceration Syndrome can be related to PTSD, which many soldiers and civilians experience and suffer from. The ongoing violence in a prison can exacerbate mental conditions leading to anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, flashbacks, difficulty controlling emotions, avoidance, and even suicidal thoughts.

Effects of Substance Abuse on Mental Health

Mental health is difficult to gain control of and using substances can make it even more difficult to treat for healthcare professionals. People use drugs for a great many reasons. No matter the reason for using, substances will have negative long-term effects on the user. There are a great number of ways substance abuse can have negative physical effects as well as causing mental health damage. For the first time, there are current studies showing that some drugs may cause mental illness. Many substance abusers suffer from mental conditions and attempt to self-medicate, making the mental health issues even worse. Current research has shown that for the mentally ill, marijuana can raise the chances of developing a psychotic disorder and even developing psychosis. Psychosis is a term in the medical community which means a patient cannot process the world around them. The patient experiences a different view of the world than is a reality for a normal person without a mental condition. Drugs also sometimes cause the side effect of self-harm or even suicide. There are a great many inmates suffering from mental health conditions in the U.S currently. Prisons need to reform the way they handle mental health inmates to create a better plan for the future helping more inmates successfully do the time required by law.