Mental Health and Stitching May 18, 2018 15:07

By Jenni Parker, Head of Programmes and Volunteers at Fine Cell Work

For those of you who read my blog post last year you will be aware that stitching was my life line when I was diagnosed with depression. This is still true, although I am not improving much, despite being surrounded by experts, I am struggling to master the art of couching stitch this week and my attempts would make some of my team of volunteer’s weep! But I still stitch most days and after a busy day in prison, working with ex-prisoners or sitting in managers meetings in the office it’s just what I need to practice mindfulness and remain calm and well.

It is because of Fine Cell Work that so many prisoners are finding a new way to cope with negative thoughts, depression, anxiety and a range of other mental health problems by stitching.

We’ve all heard the statistic that around one in four adults are diagnosed with mental illness in their life but research suggests that people in prison are more likely to suffer from mental health problems than in the community. We currently have over 370 stitchers engaged with Fine Cell Work, and if I had to guess I would suggest that over 65% of those are individuals who are suffering very ill mental health.

“Because of Fine Cell Work it has been over six years since I self-harmed. I have no mental health problems now and it has made me a better person.” – FCW stitcher

It is very hard for prisoners to manage their mental health in a way that I am able too because so many aspects of their day to day lives are controlled by the prison. Being transferred to different prisons makes providing consistent health care very difficult.

The 2017 study from the National Audit Office evidenced these shocking pieces of information:

* 120 self-inflicted deaths in prisons occurred in 2016, the highest number on record.

* 40,161 self-harm incidents reported in prisons in 2016, again the highest on record

* Poor mental health costs the economy an estimated £105 billion per year.

* Suicide and self-harm are also more common in prison than in the community, and complex social and personal issues such as substance misuse or histories of trauma are more common among the prisoner population.

* Prisoners whose mental health needs are not addressed are much more likely to reoffend.

What doesn’t help is staff shortages in prisons. Over stretched staff can’t be expected to notice and manage mental health in the prisoners on their wing. Most prisons have listener schemes, that offer emotional support in confidence from trained fellow inmates and some prisons have excellent Safer Custody Teams to support prisoners and raise safeguarding issues but in times of “austerity” it is more important than ever that charities offering alternative and complimentary activities step in and support prisoners.

“I feel that I am gaining so much from this work. I feel so calm whilst sewing, and free from all of the stress, worry and anxiety that living in prison brings. I also gain a real sense of achievement from my work. When I see how much my work is valued, it feels good. My confidence in myself has grown and will, no doubt, continue to do so.”

* Kieron, FCW Stitcher (HMP Wandsworth)