What happens to mentally ill ex-offenders when they are released back into a community that often views them with suspicion and fear? Community psychiatric nurse Ruth White talks about keeping patients on the straight and narrow and the importance of understanding their view of reality.
Mental illness makes many of us feel uncomfortable and the resulting discrimination runs deep, despite the plethora of laws and right-on noise to the contrary. This reaction can be extreme when mentally ill offenders are released and it’s hardly surprising, given the media attention that often accompanies high-profile murder cases involving mental illness and their cumulative influence on the public psyche.
It is also highlighting misleading; reoffending rates amongst those suffering from a mental illness are low compared to ex-prisoners and the prospect of becoming a victim is highly unlikely.
It is hard to gauge what effect this backdrop of prejudice has on patients re-entering society on top of their daily struggle to manage conditions, such as bi-polar disorder and schizophrenia. Freedom brings its own challenges and offenders spend an average of five years in a medium security unit before being released. They often face an uphill struggle, including the day-to-day challenge of managing their condition, resisting the temptations of returning to their old life, public stigma, isolation and finding employment.