Self-guided workbooks improve prisoners’ mental health

An ‘SA-first’ initiative led by Steven Hutchinson and Susan O’Neill from CALHN’s SA Prison Health Service (SAPHS) has found an improvement in the mental health and wellbeing of a prison population who were given self-directed workbooks to manage anxiety and depression.

Five self-management workbooks were developed and reviewed by prisoners and health professionals across themes of anxiety, depression, drugs in prison, emotional regulation and exercise. All workbooks were designed as low literacy.

‘We explored and designed the workbooks with SAPHS nursing staff, consumers and our social work student. Our research project stemmed from the simple idea of wanting to assist consumers to manage their own health and increase mental wellness within the unique confines of the prison environment.’ – Susan O’Neill, Nurse Consultant Medication Safety & Practice Development, SA Prison Health Service.

‘SA-first’ initiative

The positive results from this initiative (an SA-first for the South Australian Prison Health environment) suggest that workbooks could be introduced as a standard tool to help the prison population self-manage low-level mental health issues.

‘Admission to prison can result in social isolation, result in complex feelings of trauma, stress and trigger anxiety or depression. Our SAPHS mental health portfolio nurses expressed their own anguish at the inability to provide time to those prisoners with low levels of anxiety and depression in the prison environment. It was identified that this was an area we could focus on as a health service and try to make a difference.’  – Susan O’Neill.

Positive outcomes

The study found that the workbooks greatly assisted prisoners to express their thoughts and emotions in discussions with the nurse. Using mindfulness activities to develop self-awareness, the resources bring the participant’s attention to the present moment. Mindfulness is known to be strongly correlated with greater wellbeing and health.

Eighty-nine prisoners across seven prison locations in South Australia participated in the study, with seventy-six completing the first two workbooks, and forty-nine prisoners completing all five workbooks. The workbooks were shown to be an effective strategy to improve symptoms of low-to-mild depression and anxiety among the population.

Award-winning research

In celebration of CALHN’s World-Class Care Day, the recipients of our inaugural Quality & Improvement Awards were announced on 26 March 2021. Congratulations to Steven Hutchinson and Susan O’Neill (SA Prison Health Service) for winning an award in the Keeping People Healthy and Safe category for their research into ‘Mental Health Wellbeing: Self-management of mild anxiety and depression among the prison population in South Australia.’