I am a PhD researcher in Queen’s University Belfast, focused on examining the role of social support in the recovery of imprisoned adults with mental illness. I recently completed a Masters in the Philosophy of Medicine in the University of Sydney focused on the treatment of forensic mental health patients with co-morbid substance use disorder. I am formerly a forensic mental health social worker and have also worked in the area of child protection.
Within the criminal justice system, rates of mental disorders are even more prevalent compared to those reported in the general population. The presence of a mental health disorder can contribute to offending behaviour and poses challenges for reintegrating into the community post-release including difficulty accessing employment and housing
The role of social support in the recovery from mental health problems has been well established. Social support is integral to the recovery of incarcerated men with mental illness as it provides a community they can return to which will provide further opportunities of employment, friendship and a chance to foster a sense of belonging.
Approaches which see the value of social support and community networks are thought to be better matched with recovery oriented care which is considered essential for the treatment of this group. However mentally ill offenders face challenges to building and maintaining social support networks such as discrimination and stigma which are not experienced at the same level by mentally ill people who have never had contact with the criminal justice system.
Currently, little is known about variations in the social supports experienced by incarcerated men with mental illness. The levels to which they are experienced will have serious ramifications on their ability to gain employment and housing as well as impact their quality of life and risk of re-offending. Through surveying these supports, insight will be gained on factors which enable mentally ill offenders to live safely in the community.