Do you have a loved one at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre (MRRC) at Silverwater?
It can be stressful to have a friend or family member in prison, and the experience can be particularly distressing if you are concerned about their welfare.
Being taken into custody can have a significant impact on the mental health and wellbeing of inmates, and if you are concerned that your loved one might be feeling depressed or suicidal, it is important to take it seriously.
When inmates are first taken to the MRRC, suicide risk is one of a number of physical and mental health issues that are assessed.
Although the assessment is fairly in-depth, it is not infallible.
Problems that may negatively affect emotional health and wellbeing, and lead to thoughts of self-harm, can develop in custody.
Factors which make suicide more likely in custody
Although everyone copes differently with being taken into custody, there are some warning factors that could make an inmate more susceptible to developing suicidal or self-harming thoughts.
- First time inmates or those on remand.
- Those with a history of substance abuse or addiction.
- Previous history of mental health disorders, suicide attempts or self-harm.
- Lack of emotional support from friends and family members not in custody.
- An anticipated guilty verdict and long sentence (for those on remand).
- Conflicts with other inmates or being a victim of bullying.
- Being housed in a segregated or isolated environment with little time out of their cell.
- Inmates who have recently experienced traumatic life events such as a relationship breakup or the death of a friend or family member.
Having one or more of these risk factors present can increase the possibility that an individual will find it difficult to cope with life in prison, but it doesn’t mean that they will necessarily become suicidal.
Similarly, if there are no risk factors present, an inmate could still struggle to cope with prison life and be in need of additional support.
It is a good idea to be aware of the signs that someone you know might be feeling depressed and potentially could be having suicidal thoughts, and to keep in regular contact with them.
Signs your friend or family member may be considering suicide
There are a number of signs that can indicate that an individual may be at risk of committing suicide in prison, and if you notice any of them while you are visiting or speaking to your friend or family member, it is important to alert authorities:
- They seem unusually withdrawn and quiet.
- They stop taking care of their appearance and personal hygiene.
- They seem like they don’t have any hope for the future.
- They mention feelings of despair or hopelessness and a lack of control over their life and future.
- They mention suicidal thoughts or allude to the possibility of not being around in the near future.
What you can do to help
Although it can be extremely hard to see someone you care about in a depressed or suicidal condition, there are a few things you can do to help your friend or family member and hopefully improve their outlook and ability to cope.
Here are some things you can do to help:
- Encourage them to talk about their feelings and ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. This can give them an avenue to express their feelings without judgement.
- Let them know you are there for them if they need to talk.
- Encourage them to seek professional help.
- Let staff members at the MRRC know of your concerns as soon as possible.
- If you don’t feel comfortable talking to staff in person, you can phone the welfare officer and speak to them about your concerns.
- Justice Health runs a 24-hour phone counselling service that provides support from trained mental health nurses to inmates and their families. If you are unsure how to handle the situation, you can call them for advice and support.
If you are concerned about the emotional or physical welfare of someone at the MRRC, it’s important that you offer them as much support as you can.
With the right support you may be able to make a real difference to your loved one’s emotional health and their ability to cope with being in custody.