Most women prisoners and their children face mental problems - Psychiatrist | Sunday Observer
Medi snips

Most women prisoners and their children face mental problems - Psychiatrist

3 October, 2021

Attention to the troubled mental status of women prisoners and their children has gained new impetus with the Government prioritising their needs and seeking to resolve their problems at all levels with instructions to all those engaged in women and child welfare to create mother–child friendly facilities in their districts without delay.

The Sunday Observer spoke to Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Sri Jayewardenepura and Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Dr Yasodha Rohanachandra to share her views on this neglected subject.

Dr Yasodha Rohanachandra said mounting evidence that that this is a key health issue has been borne out by the recent albeit limited local and global studies, which  reveal that women prisoners and their children  have a higher likelihood of developing mental health problems than the general population.  According to these studies, over 50 percent of the women in prison suffer from depression and anxiety.”

She said, “Majority of the women in prisons have a history of negative childhood experiences such as abuse or witnessing violence. They are also more likely to have lived in poverty and be socially isolated. These factors, together with the negative experiences during arrest, separation from family and the risk of losing their children, may all contribute to higher risk of developing psychiatric disorders in women in prisons. ”

Violation of rights

She added, “Studies have found that the majority of these women are not identified and only a few receive the psychopharmacological interventions they need which is a violation of their rights as international standards require adequate healthcare for people in prison, including access to counselling and treatment for people with poor mental health or mental health disorders. ”

When inquired by Medi snips on the physical and mental health effects of children either separated from their mothers, or forced to live in a prison environment,  she cited studies which found that  many of the women that are sent to prison are mothers and that globally, around 17,000 children are separated from their mothers each year due to maternal imprisonment. “This is why, in 2007, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that infants should not be separated from their mothers due to incarceration because of the child’s best interest and a right to family life. If the mother is to be incarcerated, it was recommended that the infant should be present in prison with their mother, if possible.”

When asked whether a prison is a conducive environment for young children, she said, “Prisons do not provide an appropriate environment for young children, as the development of young children may be hindered due to the lack of stimulation within prisons. On the contrary, separation from the mother has also negative psychological consequences such as attachment difficulties and increased risk of developing mental health disorders in later life. ”

Mother-baby units

Drawing attention to the concept of “Mother-baby units” developed to address this problem, Medi snips asked her to explain how these units functioned and how they helped the mother and the baby.

She said, “A Mother and Baby Unit (MBU) is a specifically designed part of a women’s prison where a mother can live with her baby. In mother-baby units, mothers can usually care for their children up to the age of about 18 months. Mother-baby units aims at providing a supportive environment for the mother and the baby, parent training and interventions to promote healthy attachment between the mother and the child. Studies have shown that compared to mothers separated from their infants, mothers who lived with their babies in mother-baby units were less likely to return to prison. Taking all this into consideration, mother-baby units have been set up within prisons in many countries.”

Asked whether all women offenders were entitled to be admitted to these units, she said, “A balance needs to be found between the need to balance the rights of the child against the seriousness of the mother’s offending. Criteria need to be developed to decide which mothers should be allowed to utilise these units. For example, it is suggested that women who are admitted to mother baby units should have no history of maltreating children and should be incarcerated for non-violent offences.”

Re-opening liquor shops can spike negative health impacts - Toxicologist

Compiled by Carol Aloisius

 No sooner the Government announced that liquor shops country wide had re-opened, people started gathering in large numbers to buy liquor, ignoring health guidelines and rules, raising fears among health officials that it could result in increasing the spread of Covid-19 infection. 

The Sunday Observer spoke to Senior Professor of Forensic Medicine, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University, Ratmalana and the Emeritus Professor of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo and former Chairman of the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, Professor Ravindra Fernando who has long campaigned against alcohol usage in Sri Lanka for his comments on this decision by the Government.  

He said, “At a time when a decrease in Covid-19 cases being reported daily and the number of hospitalisation has vastly gone down, it is my opinion that this decision to open liquor bars should be re-considered. As a Toxicologist I wish to emphasise that alcohol has severe impacts on the human body. Just because it is freely available is no excuse for them to drink this toxic brew.”

Asked to list some of the most significant health impacts on a person, he said, “Alcohol causes central nervous system depression, impaired motor coordination, slurred speech, sensory disturbances such as blurred and double vision, drowsiness, loss of appetite, an inability to concentrate, impaired judgment, decreased inhibitions, coma and even death.” 

He added, “It affects the liver and causes diseases in the heart, pancreas, stomach and the brain. Chronic alcoholism can cause loss of appetite, social problems and sexual impotence.”

Commenting on long exposure to alcohol and its effects, he said, “It may also affect kidney, liver, nervous system, change in female fertility index and cause cancer.”

When asked about mental and psychological impacts on users, he said “Alcohol causes physical and psychological dependence. 

Dr Fernando also warned that consumption of alcohol with certain drugs such as barbiturates and diazepam could be fatal.” 

He said, “It is well known that taking alcohol can lead to violence in the home/ domestic abuse, child neglect, family disintegration, violence in the street, sexual offences, days off work (hangovers)”. 

He said alcohol consumption among children in Sri Lanka is low compared to countries such as the UK where a recent study has shown that around half of secondary school (11-15 years) pupils interviewed had consumed an alcoholic drink (51%) and 18% reported drinking alcohol in the week prior to interview. He said that the possibility of this happening here could not be ruled out if it was freely available in homes. It is a public health issue we cannot ignore, he said.