Do The Incarcerated Heal? Exploring The Mental Health of The Imprisoned

Pausing to dedicate space to an often forgotten & silenced population of women & men

Affected incarcerated persons share insights into how mental health is treated in prisons.

Suffering In Silence

For decades, it has been acknowledged that there is a tremendous mental health crisis in this country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health became an even more paramount issue. And while considerable strides have been made to elevate awareness of mental health and provide more accessible treatments for the issue, there is still a large class of our citizens that have been severely neglected. That group is the incarcerated individuals in our population. When it comes to the issue of overall public mental health, Freedom At The Mat wants to dedicate some time and space to exploring this often overlooked population,.

The Unseen

mental health for incarcerated individualsIncarcerated men and women across the country are both susceptible to and victims of the same mental health issues as the rest of us. And, more often than not, at higher rates than the average adult population. According to the Department of Justice and the American Psychological Association, 21% of adults in the U.S. reported experiencing mental health issues in 2020. However, in that same year, for incarcerated individuals, that statistic rose to 64% for jail inmates, 54% for state prisoners, and 45% for federal prisoners.  Prison often hits women harder. According to the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women, women in jails and prisons report high rates of mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and substance abuse. While apprx 1 in 3 justice involved women meet criteria for current PTSD, with 1 in 2 meeting criteria for lifetime PTSD. Furthermore, a national survey found that 55% of male adults in state prisons exhibited mental health problems as compared to 73% of women prisoners.

Nonetheless, just like us, their diagnoses range anywhere from just as mild to just as severe. The only significant difference is they are more likely to fall through the cracks, whether that means going undiagnosed or untreated. The Prison Policy Initiative correspondingly reports in its research on federal prisoner mental health that this is a plight that is endured by 66% of people in federal prisons. Most common mental disorders within the prison populations are depression, anxiety, substance use and psychotic disorders. 

The majority of those individuals reporting do not receive mental health care of any kind during incarceration. Likewise, in many cases, a person is convicted of a crime or crimes that were prompted by their illness. Therefore, rather than looking at these persons as someone acting with criminal intent, they should be seen as someone in need of treatment for a condition and handled this way.

Your Voice Matters

mental healthThroughout the history of this country, even after the acknowledgment and acceptance of the necessity for mental health resources in the mainstream, there has been a striking lack of adequate and effective care for incarcerated individuals concerning treatment for mental illness and overall mental health. This has been detrimental to the mental and emotional well-being of many of these men and women, with nearly 1 in 4 “people experiencing ‘serious psychological distress’ in jails”, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. It should go without saying, that incarcerated individuals deserve and are entitled to the same standard of care as any other. Whether the ailment is physical or psychological, everyone has the right to a healthy life. With that said, it is not simply a lack of resources, but a lack of information about these topics as well. The truth is that many incarcerated individuals lack the education on the subject of mental health to know to ask for help when it is in fact needed. This, especially, is why the importance can not be overstated to advocate for access to mental health resources for incarcerated individuals whenever possible.

Advocate for mental health for the incarcerated by supporting grassroots & research initiatives of such mental health-related organizations as the National Association of Mental Illness.

We are grateful that Freedom At The Mat offers openly accessible, free meditation, yoga and affirmations so that anyone in need can tap into this content on our YouTube channel. If you know anyone who is incarcerated or anyone in need of mental health support, we invite you to have them visit us at Freedom At The Mat, Here!