Mental health problems higher in prisons
THE nation’s prison population has a higher level of mental health issues than the general population, a report has found.
The mental health of prison entrants in Australia 2010 report found 31 per cent of prisoners had reported being told by a medical professional they had a mental health disorder.
“This is about 2.5 times higher than the general population,” says Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) spokesman Tim Beard.
The report, released by the AIHW, used data from the 2010 National Prisoner Health Census released last year, which found 16 per cent of prisoners when going into prison reported they were on medication for mental health disorders, with 14 per cent experiencing very high levels of stress.
Mr Beard says the report showed prisoners with a mental health disorder had poorer socioeconomic and health characteristics than those without.
“For example, two-thirds were either unemployed or unable to work due to disability, age or other conditions,” he says.
Those prisoners with mental health histories also had more extensive criminal histories, with about one-third incarcerated five or more times as adults.
The prisoners in this group were more likely to take risks when it came to health behaviours, including illicit drug use, smoking and extreme drinking.
More than half had received a head injury that resulted in a loss of consciousness or blackouts at some point in their lives, the report found.
Mr Beard says risky health behaviours were particularly prevalent among those taking medication for a mental health disorder.
“Among these, three-quarters had used illicit drugs in the last 12 months, more than half consumed alcohol at risky levels and nearly 90 per cent smoked,” he says.
About a third of prison entrants taking medication for mental health problems had visited the prison clinic for an associated issue during the census, with nearly half visiting on three or more occasions.