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

Most women prisoners and their children face mental problems

17 October, 2021

Attention to the troubled mental status of women prisoners and their children has gained a new impetus with the Government prioritising their needs and seeking to solve 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 Rohanachandra said, “Recent local and global studies reveal that Women prisoners and their children have a higher likelihood of developing mental health problems than the general population.  According to the studies, over 50 percent of the women in prison suffer from depression and anxiety.”

She said, “The majority of 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.”

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

When asked to explain how “Mother and Baby Units” developed to address the problem, functioned and how they helped the mother and the baby, Dr Rohanachandra 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 and Baby Units, mothers can usually care for their children up to the age of 18 months.

The 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 and Baby Units were less likely to return to prison.”