Dealing with depression in prison - by Sam, a former inmate




Dear Prison Widow UK 

I'd suffered with depression before I served my prison sentence. Whilst doing time, my mental health took a further tumble. 
During my stretch at Her Majesty's pleasure, I was doubled up with a guy who also suffered depression. I'd prevented him from self-harming on numerous occasions and couldn't prevent him on others. I'd raised concerns but they fell on deaf ears; not because the guards weren't interested; they were, but the prison was experiencing low staffing levels - which inevitably meant that inmates spent more time in their cells - which inevitably induced deeper depression for some. Including myself. 
I was advised by a staff member to keep my mind occupied and write to family. But if anyone of you reading this has suffered with depression, you will understand that you cannot be bothered to do anything let alone pick up a pen and write an upbeat note to family and friends. I didn't even want to talk to anyone on the phone because depression is something that you cannot snap out of. How many of your loved ones have told you to ''pull yourself together and snap out of it''? It isn't as plain sailing as that. Being ''fed up'' is one thing, but depression is an illness. If I was to approach someone with a broken leg; I wouldn't say to that person; ''pull yourself together and get on a treadmill''. 
Before I was sent to prison, I dealt with my depression by being around positive people and attending self-help groups. I would force myself to go because I enjoyed the laughter and conversations. It helped. However, in prison, there isn't much of that, plus I was sharing a cell with someone who suffered with mental health illness. Understandably, I was reluctant to talk about my depression with him because on occasions when I did, this triggered him to cut his arms and made his frame of mind worse. My frame of mind was declining also because I spent hours trying to distract him from self-harming. The situation was a no win one because we were holed in an environment that had us banged up in a cell most of the day. I didn't sleep well either for fear that I would wake up one morning and my cell-mate had done a proper job on himself which involved being released from prison in a body-bag. Luckily he never was, but nevertheless, my anxiety was through the roof and I felt responsible for him, yet he wasn't my responsibility. The prison has a duty of care for inmates, but the duty of care is in the balance when there isn't enough staff to attend to people who are struggling with mental health illness, and any other illnesses for that matter. 
Prison's need a scheme; what kind of scheme I couldn't say. But I was released from prison a depressed wreck having been my cell-mates caregiver; which technically I was because he received minimal support from the prison. 
I would appreciate a debate/discussion on this matter with other readers who tune in to your blog. 
I hope my story makes it on to your page. I think it is important to raise awareness. 
With the greatest of respect,

Sam 

A former inmate