BENGALURU: While many people have faced mental health issues during the pandemic, one of the most vulnerable groups in this regard are prisoners. In order to support them, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) has come out with a module for prisons across the country.
Prisoners had been affected when the lockdowns were announced, which led to restricted access to family members and impediments to legal proceedings as courts were not functioning, resulting in the increased risk of self-harm.
Dr Naveen Kumar C, Professor, Department of Psychiatry, who helped launch the module, pointed out that most prisons have a team of a doctors, but not many have mental health professionals. Hence it was important to come out with the module as all sections are facing mental health issues including prisoners.
"The team of doctors can read through the module and help in the stress management of prisoners. Further, administrators or supervisors can promote awareness about mental health stress by organising awareness classes, stress management workshops etc," said Dr Kumar.
The Union Health Ministry approached NIMHANS to make the module for prisons after being alerted over mental health issues among inmates. A team of nine professionals from NIMHANS contributed to the handbook "Dealing with mental health issues in prisoners during COVID-19". A clinical psychologist and psychiatrist from the Central Prison, Bangalore, also helped in making the module, which was drawn up during the second wave. The module has been sent to prisons across the country.
The module noted that staff at prisons should be supportive to help prisoners cope with the mental strain. For instance, if they find someone not behaving like their usual self, then the staff need to enquire and support them. For prisoners with extreme mental health stress, additional support needs to be provided.
The prisoners are also encouraged to practise self-care which can promote physical, emotional, relational and spiritual wellness. Practising breathing exercises and yoga for 15 minutes a day can help uplift the mood. Mental health support also needs to be provided when family members of prisoners are infected with COVID-19 or succumb to the virus.