The Custodial Review invites Sue Wheatcroft, a former inmate with a borderline personality disorder, to talk about mental health in prison. Here, Sue highlights the lack of resources available to prisoners who need mental health support and explains what she did about the problem on her release…
At the age of 55, I went to prison for the first time. I take full responsibility for the actions that led me there. However, I strongly believe that if I had received help from the mental health services, things would not have got so bad. I was desperate but received no help because I was ‘too ill to treat’. My story is not uncommon, and the more people who highlight what happens, the more chance there will be of changing attitudes and transforming the lives of people with mental illness.
In prison, the mental health service In-Reach were willing to help but lacked resources. I have a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) but because I was only serving a two-year sentence, I was not allowed onto any of the relevant courses or into specialised units. The criteria for these was two years left to serve.
Not enough is known in prison about BPD. The prison staff, even in Healthcare, did not know the difference between someone in distress and an ‘attention-seeker’. As such, our ‘bad behaviour’ resulted in numerous stays in segregation. Out of the 18 months I was in prison (I was released after a year but then recalled after six months) a total of five months was spent in the segregation unit. Twenty-three and a half hours a day in isolation cannot possibly rehabilitate a prisoner, especially if that individual has a mental illness.
After leaving prison for the second time, my partner and I decided to re-mortgage our house so that I could pay for private therapy. This has made an immense difference to my life, and proves to me that, with a little help when needed, many people would not end up with a custodial sentence.
As well as accessing therapy when I left prison, I became a volunteer and am now heavily involved in campaigning for a Personality Disorder Pathway in Derbyshire, which is where I live. This came about when I was present at an event attended by someone from Healthwatch Derbyshire. They told me about Mental Health Together, the new engagement service they were setting up for people’s stories to be brought to the attention of the relevant authorities, with the prospect of bringing about positive change. I am now co-chair of that organisation. I also run the Derbyshire Borderline Personality Disorder Support Group. We have two branches, in Chesterfield and Matlock, and will be expanding next year.
I have turned my life around but I know that much of what happened, shouldn’t have. I strongly believe that professionals, in both prison and the community, should have better Personality Disorder awareness training so that individuals with the condition will have a better chance of recovery, and of staying out of prison.
For more information on Mental Health Together, click here.
And for the Derbyshire Borderline Personality Disorder Support Group's Facebook group, click here.
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