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Catalyst for improvement

Mental Health Awareness Week is taking place from 15–21 May. As a society, much has been done to reduce the stigma around mental health and making support available for those who need it. But while society has moved forward with its awareness and provision, the criminal justice system is struggling to keep up. 

The most recent Bromley Briefings, the flagship publication from the Prison Reform Trust that brings together the latest facts about prisons and the people who live in them, makes for concerning reading. It reports more than two-thirds (67%) of people in prison surveyed said they needed support with their mental health in their current prison. But only around a third (35%) said they had received help.

Claire struggled with her mental health before prison. Her offence was linked to her poor mental health. She found her first weeks in prison incredibly challenging as she waited in uncertainty for six months to be sentenced. 

Having no control of her life became Claire’s norm. Every day, she would wait to be unlocked from her cell. This would often happen late due to a shortage of staff. The unfamiliar environment and the constant noise from the neighbouring cell led to continual uncertainty. ‘It all kept drilling home the loss of liberty, the loss of hope and the overwhelming sense of having no control over my own life,’ Claire admits.

To cope, Claire turned to self-harm. This coping strategy is common in prison. The Bromley Briefings reports record high levels of self-harm as well as thoughts of suicide. This is something Claire also faced, and her experience is not uncommon when you consider that 46% of women and 21% of men in prison report attempting suicide at some point. In the general population, the figure is 6%. 

Claire was placed on medical hold and was added to a waiting list to start counselling. But, as soon as she was sentenced, she moved prisons. She told us how challenging she found this, and it resulted in her ‘kicking off.’ Because of this, she spent most of her time in the next prison behind her door with no contact with anyone except staff. ‘This had a huge detrimental effect on my mental wellbeing,’ she shares. ‘I ended up being in a very dark place again. I felt there was no hope for me, no future.’

Clarie’s experience is not an isolated incident. 76% of women in prison and 51% of men reported they had a mental health condition. Yet a Justice Committee report found that only around 10% of people in prison receive treatment for mental illness. ‘The impacts on residents like myself can be profound,’ comments one man in prison. ‘This is a particular concern for me as the invisible harm is harder to address than the visible.’

‘The worst cases are getting put in segregation and we hear the screaming which is awful,’ notes one woman in prison.

Reading about these experiences is difficult. But, it is encouraging to know that Claire is now out of prison and has turned her life around.

She pinpoints the moments she was offered opportunities for training and learning and was given a job in the prison as catalysts for improvement: ‘This gave me a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose and a bit of self-belief that maybe I wasn’t a monster.’

Claire also began to attend chapel. ‘I am not a church goer per se. But I would often attend chapel to get out of my cell and to have a chance to sing and relax.’

And, when anything major happened in her life—such as a loss of a relative—the chaplaincy team provided support and comfort. ‘That meant so much,’ Claire comments, ‘it made me feel like I mattered.’

Claire was able to make positive changes in her life. When positive environments are created for people in prison, good things can happen. And we can see many more lives transformed.

During this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, would you join us in praying for people in prison? For the many who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions with insufficient support. Pray that they would receive the help they so desperately need and would be given opportunities to engage in meaningful, restorative activities while in prison.

God of seen and
unseen struggles,
Christ in all things.

We pray for all those in
our prisons, whose mental
health is a constant battle.

We lift up those who are
visibly troubled, and those
who struggle in the dark.

In moments of grief,
may they know Your

In times of depression,
may they know
Your presence.

When faced with
addiction, surround
them with Your grace.

Bless those who work
to lighten those burdens
and may we be compelled
to do likewise.


Learn more about becoming a Prison Fellowship volunteer at

“I can honestly say that I never had as much satisfaction when I worked as I do now as a volunteer.” — Arthur, Chaplaincy Support volunteer

Volunteer with PF

Volunteers are the life-blood of our organisation, and what they do in the lives of those in prison and as they pray, is incredibly valuable. If you are looking to use your time to support some of the most marginalised people in our society to transform their lives, then volunteering could be for you.

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