More than 40% of those on probation had a mental health diagnosis, report finds

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More than 40% of those on probation had at least one mental health diagnosis, compared to 18.5% of the general population, and 10% were suicidal, according to the largest cohort mental health examination.

The study, one of three examined in a report published by the Probation Service on Thursday, involved five probation teams and questionnaires about around 500 people under their supervision at the time, in February 2019.

Of these 500 people, most (85%) identified as White Irish, 7.5% were White Traveler Irish, 6.3% other White, 0.6% were Black African and 0. 2% belonged to “another ethnic group”.

Overall, 41% of people “have been officially identified as having a known mental diagnosis,” the report says, with higher rates among women (52%) than men (38.5%).

Anxiety disorders and mood disorders were the most commonly reported, which was consistent for both men and women.

The report, Moving Forward Together: Mental Health Among Persons Supervised by the Probation Service, by Dr Christina Power, Senior Clinical Psychologist at the Probation Service, was well received by Justice Minister Helen McEntee.

“Addressing the complex needs of people with mental health challenges who come into contact with the criminal justice system is a priority for me,” said the Minister. “The release of this report marks an important step in informing and developing best practices for working with people with mental health issues.”

Anxiety-related symptoms

Low mood and sadness, low self-esteem, and anxiety-related symptoms were most commonly identified in people. Suicidal ideation and suicide plans were identified by probation officers in 10% of those under their supervision. Again, rates were higher among women (16%) than among men (8%).

The factor most often associated with poor mental health was “chronic abuse of drugs or alcohol or both” (51%), followed by difficult family relationships (49%) and housing instability (47 %).

This is followed by previous experiences of childhood trauma (20%) and grief/unresolved bereavement (18%).

Other factors included social isolation and withdrawal, and living alone with low social supports.

Parenting concerns and access to children (11%) and intimate partner violence were key issues identified more often for women than for men.

More than half of those assessed were categorized as having ‘mild impairment’, ‘mild symptoms’ or ‘moderate symptoms’ on the Global Assessment of Functioning test, which examines the extent to which health difficulties mental health have an impact on a person’s daily functioning.

Unmet needs

“There are significant and unmet psychological and psychiatric needs among those under probation supervision,” the report states. “These results show that we need to improve access and pathways to engagement with mental health services. It takes inter-agency work and a focused government approach to ensure this can happen.

Probation service director Mark Wilson said the service has been supporting people with mental health issues for many years.

“While we knew this was an important area for the direction of our work, we did not have research to detail the frequency or severity of the problem.”

One of the report’s recommendations is that probation officers be trained in mental health issues.

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