Mental health of prison entrants
Almost half of prison entrants (49%) reported having been told by a health professional that they have a mental health disorder, and more than 1 in 4 (27%) reported currently being on medication for a mental health disorder.
Reporting a history of mental health problems was more common among female (62%) than male entrants (47%). Consistent with this, a higher proportion of females than males were currently on medication for a mental health disorder (37% and 25%, respectively).
Eighteen percent of the youngest prison entrants (aged under 25) reported currently taking mental health related medication compared with at least 28% of older entrants (those aged 25 or over).
Non-Indigenous prison entrants were more likely than Indigenous prison entrants to have ever been told that they have a mental health disorder (51% and 44%, respectively), but the proportions taking mental health related medication was the same.
Although almost half (49%) of all prison entrants experienced low levels of psychological distress during the four weeks immediately preceding entry to prison, almost 1 in 3 (31%) had high or very high levels of distress:
- The issues causing 'a lot' of distress for entrants were family or relationships in the community (34%), their current imprisonment (19%), and alcohol, tobacco and other drug issues (18%).
- Over 2 in 5 (45%) female entrants compared with 29% of male entrants experienced high or very high levels of distress.
- Over half (51%) of male entrants experienced low levels of distress in the 4 weeks preceding prison entry, compared with 33% of female entrants.
Levels of psychological distress were generally lower among those who were about to leave prison (dischargees), with 19% experiencing high or very high levels:
- The issues causing 'a lot' of distress for dischargees were their upcoming release from prison (13%) and family and relationships in the community (13%).
- Female dischargees were almost three times more likely than male dischargees to report very high levels of distress (19% compared with 6%).
- reported psychological distress was lower for Indigenous than non-Indigenous prison entrants and dischargees (Figure 1). In the 4 weeks prior to incarceration, 1 in 5 (20%) Indigenous entrants experienced high or very high levels of distress, compared with 34% of non-Indigenous entrants.
Younger prison entrants experienced less distress than older entrants. About 1-in-5 (20%) of the youngest entrants (aged under 25) reported high or very high levels of distress, compared with 37% of those aged at least 35 years.
Figure 1: Prison entrants and dischargees, level of psychological distress, by Indigenous status, 2015
Excludes New South Wales as data were not provided for this indicator.
Levels of distress as indicated by scores on the K10: low (10–15), moderate (16–21), high (22–29) and very high (30–50).
Source: Entrant form and dischargee form, NPHDC 2015.
Changes to mental health while in prison
- Almost 1 in 5 (19%) prison dischargees, or 64% of those ever diagnosed with mental health condition, were offered treatment for a mental health condition while in prison.
- More than 2 in 5 (41%) dischargees said their mental health had improved since being in prison, with 19% reporting that it had become a lot better, and a further 22% said it got a little better. Less than 1 in 10 (9%) dischargees reported that their mental health got a little or a lot worse.
- Male dischargees were less positive than women, with 10% of men reporting that their mental health had become a little or a lot worse since being in prison, compared with 4% of women.
- Indigenous dischargees were more positive than non-Indigenous dischargees—just over half (51%) of Indigenous dischargees reported that their mental health as either a lot better (22%) or a little better (29%) compared with 38% of non-Indigenous dischargees (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Prison dischargees' changes in mental health and wellbeing, by Indigenous status, 2015
Note: Excludes New South Wales as data were not provided for discharges.
Source: Dischargee form, NPHDC 2015.
Self assessed mental health
Over three quarters (78%) of dischargees, and two-thirds (67%) of entrants rated their mental health as being generally good or better:
- Men were more likely than women to assess their own mental health as being very good or excellent. Just over one-third (35%) of male entrants compared with 17% of female entrants gave this rating, as did 44% of male and 25% of female dischargees.
- Similarly, younger entrants and dischargees were more positive in their assessments of their own mental health than older prisoners. One-third (32–36%) of dischargees aged aged at least 35 gave a rating of very good or excellent, compared with 59% of the youngest dischargees aged 18–24 years.
See Chapter 4 of The health of Australia's prisoners 2015.