Mental disorders predominant among incarcerated women than men, says survey

Historically, the number of men in prisons has outnumbered that of women. Due to their underrepresentation, the varied needs of women often take a backseat in the criminal justice system. According to researchers and social scientists, imprisoned women are often labeled as “invisible” due to the lack emphasis on their health and rights.

Since the 1980s, the population of women in state and federal prisons rose over six times. The prison population of women now majorly comprise African-American and Hispanic women. Moreover, approximately two-thirds of women inmates in the state and federal prisons are Blacks, Hispanics or belong to other non-White ethnic groups.

Despite the skyrocketing numbers of women inmates, scarce attention is given to their unique health concerns ranging from gynecological, reproductive to psychosocial problems. One should not ignore the fact that these women are already coming with a history of traumatic experiences, such as assault, sexual abuse, domestic violence, etc.

The twin burden of past trauma and current negligence of treatment can escalate health-related problems, including psychiatric disorders. With over two-third of the incarcerated women in America reporting of suffering from mental health problems, the policymakers need to start making effective changes in the current health programs being run for them. The new reports highlighting the preponderance of mental health problems among women than men in prisons is a revelation for all.

Sexual abuse behind mental disorders in women

The Marshal Project, conducted by the researchers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, sought to measure the level mental health problems among incarcerated men and women around mental health issues that are rarely discussed. The results have thrown up dramatic numbers, reflecting the disparity on the parameter of mental health between men and women in the prisons of the United States.

The survey includes the responses of more than 100,000 men and women between February 2011 and March 2012 from several jails and prisons in the U.S. The participants were asked whether they had ever been diagnosed with a psychological disorder, such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety. Their responses were also taken to assess their mood and emotions in the previous 30 days.

While 39 percent of the participants admitted of being diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder, around 19 percent reported of struggling with an episode of severe distress before survey. When these responses were analyzed on the basis of gender, the differences found were dramatic. Though women comprised only 7 percent of the entire prison population, more than 66 percent women reported having a record of mental disorders.

Additionally, one out of every five women suffered from a severe psychological incident in the last 30 days whereas only one out of every seven men reported such an incident. Even in local jails, a similar gender variation was prevalent, wherein 68 percent of women reported of being diagnosed with a mental disorder vis-à-vis only 41 percent of men.

Although the disparity is widespread across all prisons, there have been no studies to determine the reasons. According to Ron Honberg, Senior Policy Adviser, National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), one of the reasons behind this disparity is the experiences of sexual abuse before imprisonment. They were also more likely to share their experiences regarding psychological distress to the surveyors than the male inmates.

Emphasis on mental health is the need of the hour

The environment in prisons can be violent, harsh and psychologically detrimental and dehumanizing. Moreover, the social stigma coupled with the depersonalizing effects of imprisonment can push incarcerated people toward hopelessness and despondency.

Numerous panels have from time to time sought improvements in the living conditions of the inmates in the correctional facilities. They have also recommended that in-prison treatment measures play a pivotal role in addressing the twin challenge of substance absue and mental disorders prevalent among inmates. Therefore, there is a need to put greater emphasis on institutionalizing effective medical care programs for incarcerated people to enable reintegration in the mainstream society.

If you or your loved one is suffering from the symptoms of mental disorders, it is imperative to seek professional help. The Colorado Mental Health Help assists in accessing the best mental health treatment centers in Colorado that specialize in delivering evidence-based intervention plans. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-899-5063 or chat online with our medical advisers to know more about the mental rehab in Colorado.