The Prison of Depression: Mental Health of the Incarcerated

It’s no secret that depression is prevalent in our society.  It’s one of the most common mental illnesses, with 6.7% of adults in the United States suffering every year from symptoms of hopelessness, persistent sadness, changes in appetite, and loss of interest and energy (NIMH, n.d.).  However, even with major depressive disorder being such a common illness, the United States lacks adequate resources to care for those suffering due to a decrease in mental health funding.  Other issues include, the closing of state owned psychiatric hospitals and failure of doctors following up with patients after medical care (Treatment Advocacy Center, 2014).

With the failure to meet the needs of the mentally ill, other facets of society are left to deal with the problems, including prisons.  As of 2012, it was recorded that ten times the number of mentally ill people were housed in prisons rather than asylums (Treatment Advocacy Center, 2014).  Among the inmates suffering, 22% met criteria for MDD, and the prevalence was shockingly higher in women (Conklin, 2000).  

Depression, in general, is more common in females, however incarcerated women were 50% more likely to suffer depression than women not imprisoned.  After further exploration, the case in which jailed mothers were separated from their children proved to be a major link.  Younger women without children seemed to have lower rates of depression than those who were parents.  Other influences on depression in the jail setting included how many visits inmates received and if they took advantage of activities hosted by the prison, such as parenting classes or bible clubs (Conklin,” 2000).

Another factor that has a big role in depression among inmates is alcohol and drug abuse.  Studies have showed that people with a history of substance abuse was a major predictor in whether a person exhibited depressive symptoms.  Nonetheless, this could contribute to the high rate of depression in prisons if the depressed inmates were originally incarcerated for a substance related crime (Conklin, 2000).

When faced with the shocking statistics prisons are left with the burden of deciding proper treatment and care.  A lot of prisons rely on committee review systems, however this often results in trying to send inmates to state mental psychiatric hospitals that are already full, causing treatment efforts to be counterintuitive (Treatment Advocacy Center, 2014).  If mental health resources were improved for the general public then those struggling could get help before receiving a prison sentence.  Making the proper resources more readily available would help to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness because rather than making it seem to be a condition criminals are prone to, it would turn the focus to regular citizens.


Conklin, G. H. (2000). Family Ties, Depression and Adjustment of Women in Prison in North Carolina. Retrieved September 22, 2015, from

NIMH. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2015, from

Treatment advocacy center. (2014, April 8). Retrieved September 22, 2015, from


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