More can be done to improve the mental health of South Australian female prisoners according to the authors of a new Flinders study.
A pilot study analysed the effectiveness of a 10 session group therapy program which included 59 female prisoners experiencing a range of mental health issues, including varying degrees of alcohol and drug use and involving participants serving various lengths of incarceration.
Flinders Senior cognitive behavioural therapist Ben Riley says modelling showed the (ACT) group therapy program reduced depression, anxiety, somatoform symptoms and improved mindfulness and acceptance levels amongst female inmates, showing the group approach can be effectively deployed in a female prison environment.
“The study was designed to test the feasibility and effectiveness of a mindfulness and acceptance-based (ACT) group intervention among female prisoners. Results showed engagement in the program and improvement in clinical outcomes for female prisoners experiencing a broad range of issues.”
The aim of ACT sessions is to increase psychological flexibility, so that individuals can engage in activities that are important to them, regardless of any unwanted thoughts, bodily sensations, and memories that may arise.
“Recent figures suggest worldwide female prison population is increasing at a faster rate than the male prison population. This trend is similar in Australia, which has seen the prisoner population almost double between 2006 and 2016. In South Australia, the prison population has grown by almost 90% in 10 years.”
“The prevalence of mental health disorders is a particular concern among Australian Indigenous prisoners, with reported rates as high as 73% for men and 86% for women. But it appears this program was equally accepted and as effective for Indigenous Australian women.”
Rates of psychiatric conditions amongst prisoners are significantly higher than in the general population but Riley says the program was effective with participants from varying backgrounds.
“We found that the involvement of an Aboriginal Project Officer to assist with the engagement and participation of Indigenous group members was an essential component of the program’s success. The data did strongly suggest that the Indigenous group improved just as well as the non-Indigenous group.”
“Given the disproportionately high rate of Indigenous prisoners in Australia along with their disproportionately high rate of mental health issues, the see early results are encouraging.”