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Saturday, 10 October, 1998, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Mental health advice for young offenders
young offenders
Lack of control puts prisoners at risk of mental health problems
Male young offenders being held in custody will receive an informative postcard about mental health how to maintain a positive outlook on life.

Prison warders and other staff such as chaplains, educators and probation officers will receive a factsheet.

The Health Education Authority (HEA) started the initiative as part of World Mental Health Day on Saturday.

There are currently 11,500 people under 21 in the prison system in England and Wales.

Research produced by the Home Office has shown that a third of those who have already been sentenced and more than a half of those on remand have a diagnosable mental health problem.

Skills for the inside

The postcards give advice on developing new skills, doing exercise, keeping in touch with the world outside prison, talking to fellow inmates and how to handle problems.

mental health generic
Mental health problems can get worse when offenders return to the community
The HEA sought the advice of young offenders on how best to present the advice.

As a result, the postcards are designed in the style of Japanese Manga comics.

The HEA joined forces with the Department of Health, the Home Office and the prison service health care directorate to get the project up and running.

The actor Stephen Fry, who spent six months on remand when he was 18, has also given his backing to the scheme.

"'Keep your head down and do your bird,' I was told," he said.

However, this is not the best approach, he said. His advice to today's young offenders was: "Keep your head up - that is what matters.

"I taught someone to read. It is odd, teaching someone else or helping others make you feel better than anything else."

Return to the community

Lynne Friedli is the health programme manager for the HEA.

She said: "This initiative is a down-to-earth way of bringing important issues out into the open as the stigma attached to mental health problems may stop people from seeking help.

"Young offenders will come back into the community when their sentence ends and need to find a positive role.

"Unresolved problems in prison may develop into more serious difficulties in time if they are not addressed."

Factors that increase the likelihood of young offenders suffering mental health problems include:

  • Lack of social support
  • Lack of control over surroundings and company
  • Isolation.

The postcard plan could develop into a nationwide strategy for handling mental health problems in prisons.

Dr Mike Longfield, director of health care in the prison service, said: "We will be carefully evaluating the effects of this project with a view to developing further mental health promotion schemes in prisons."

BBC News
Cary Johnston reports: "So far this year, 58 young male offenders have committed suicide in care"
BBC News
Peter Hanington: "The scheme hopes to provide youngsters with a greater sense of community"
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