Mental Health Awareness Week 2022

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2022, establishments across the Scottish Prison Service estate held events and ran groups in support of both those in our care and our staff.

HMP Castle Huntly (Open Estate) welcomed the return of the Veterans in Custody Support Officer (VICSO) group for the first time since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The main function of the group is to support the complex needs of veterans in custody and their families. Through positive links with various organisations and charities, VICSOs and their groups provide essential support in areas such as arranging pro-social events, assisting with employment and money matters, and supporting those with mental health issues.

At HMP & YOI Grampian, a brave group of staff known as the ‘Nippy Dippers’ arranged a get-together for colleagues, friends and families to take part in a cold-water swim in Peterhead Lido Marina. Cold-water swimming is said to provide a natural boost to the immune system, along with improved circulation, stress reduction and helps to create and strengthen relationships – all of which play a key part in supporting mental health.

Further to this, people in our care were visited by author Barry Woodward, known for his work ‘Once an Addict’. During his time in the establishment, Barry shared his own personal story of his journey to recovery from addiction. He spoke openly about his addiction and drug-induced mental health issues, how this affected his relationships and ultimately led to him spending time in prison. Many of the attendees resonated with Barry’s life experiences and the sessions offered an opportunity to talk openly and honestly about their own challenges.

HMP Dumfries have recently set up a walking group for their over 60s population. On a daily basis, a small group take the opportunity to walk or sit in the establishment's extensive Wellbeing Garden. This opportunity has been initiated as a way to support the individuals’ mental health and wellbeing. Partaking in regular exercise also helps to look after their physical health, and as such reduces the risk of developing certain health conditions.

An initiative running throughout the year at HMP Low Moss is the ‘Talking Heads’ group. Focused on mental health, the group aims to provide a supportive environment in which individuals are encouraged to share their experiences of life in custody and the challenging mental health issues that some face. In doing so, participants are encouraged to trust and respect other individuals in their group, which can sometimes be a challenge in the prison environment. The group’s creator, Prisoner Management Officer Marie, states that the group incorporates motivational topics and encourages people to manage their own challenges through mindfulness, poetry and positive thinking.

HMP Perth had a number of initiatives ongoing throughout the week. At night, the Old Gate House was lit up green to mark the occasion. For those in our care, the establishment’s Mental Health Nurses delivered a group in the Recovery Hub on the topic of anxiety. Alongside this, the Education department are starting a 6-week Mental Health Awareness group for those in our care. Recognising the importance of the issue, the Recovery Hub and Fife College also now offer an SQA level 4 course in Mental Health.

Not forgetting the importance of the health and wellbeing of our staff group, the establishment’s Physical Education Instructors reintroduced staff gym sessions and delivered circuit classes to encourage staff members to get involved. It was hoped that these sessions would positively affect both their physical and mental health.

HMP Shotts have been running ‘Health Improvement Fridays’ over the past year, delivered by SPS staff in partnership with Fife College and the NHS’ Mental Health Team. The project focuses on mental health, with staff delivering a learning programme through activities such as reading groups, arts and crafts and ICT/Digital media classes. There are a number of areas that participants are able to focus on, including stigma around male mental health, suicide, bullying, sleep, physical activities, coping strategies, stress awareness and substance misuse.

A mental health and wellbeing event was held in HMP & YOI Cornton Vale’s gymnasium for women in our care. With this years’ theme being ‘loneliness’, the event focused on making connections between the women and staff from SPS, the NHS, Fife College and the Family Hub. A variety of activities were available for attendees, including games, arts and crafts to encourage people to create connections with each other. NHS Mental Health, Primary Care and Dental staff were also on hand to talk about services and supports available. Some of the women also started painting benches from around the establishment, by adding eye-catching colours and quotes, the benches have become ‘listening benches’ to be used as a way of encouraging communication and support.

Finally, HMP Barlinnie held a hugely successful health and wellbeing event in the Resource Hub of which over 130 people in our care attended. A number of health and wellbeing stations were set up with staff from SPS, NHS, Fife College and other partners on hand to provide information, guidance and support. All stations also generated their own referral system to follow up individual concerns after the event.

The NHS provided information on how to address sleeping problems, stress, anxiety and low moods. Fife College focused on games and exercises that those in custody could use to improve periods of low mood, while also promoting opportunities available within the Learning Centre, which would allow them to develop new skills, gain qualifications and build their confidence.

Staff from the PE Department offered ‘health checks’ where individuals could have their weight, blood pressure and BMI measured. They also promoted the positive Mental Health benefits of using the Gym, particularly to those who were not regular attenders or who had never used the facilities during their sentences.

Staff from the Life Skills Unit focused on workshops that individuals could attend such as ‘Barlinnie Brain Fog’, ‘Yes I Can’ and ‘Talking Heads’; all of which promote self-esteem, positive thinking and bringing prisoners together to encourage good mental health solutions.