Christian ministries tackling mental health in prison

PrisonMinistry

by Jennifer Valentine-Miller

According to the head of an independent review into suicides in prisons, the HM Inspectorate paper has documented that the rate since the 2007 review has increased by more than 50%.  This percentage was drawn from over 220 new prisoners who completed the reception screening form (GHQ12) which indicates primary or secondary mental health needs.

The Labour peer Lord Harris was asked by the government to conduct a review on how to reduce self-inflicted deaths in custody.  The major question that will be asked is are there interventions that could have been done which could have saved the government money – by stopping mental health needs ending up in the criminal justice system in the first place?  The BBC reported recently that  “obviously there will always be a core of prisoners who do need to be in prison. But, if some of the others were not inside, there would be more resources to make sure those individuals were supported and prison achieved its objectives in terms of rehabilitation.”

The Ministry of Justice covers transfers from prison to hospitals under the Mental Health Act 1983. Their guidance also covers work with restricted patients detained in hospital and those discharged into the community.

The Orthodox Church (OC) in America claims that more than 2 million prisoners are being held in federal or state prisons or in local jails. Building and maintaining prisons is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States. Yet many of us feel that prison ministry is better left to the “professionals,” prison chaplains, or those specially trained for this kind of work. The OC also went on to say that everyone is called to undertake prison ministry because firstly it is a biblical command.  Secondly, many jails and prisons have no full-time or even part-time chaplains or any religious services at all.  Even in prisons that have chaplains, they cannot possibly minister to more than a small percentage of inmates there. And thirdly, statistics tell us that for every person incarcerated, there are three to five other people affected:  families, loved ones, and children.

The national newspaper for prisoners and detainees in the UK which is named, InsideTime, raised an issue which emphasized and agreed that prison chaplains should have keen interest and concern for all inmates.  Every prisoner should have the opportunity to speak with a chaplain. The article also went on to say that “a majority of prisoners may not wish to avail themselves of the opportunity, but at least people should be given the choice to yes or no thanks to the offer of a listening ear”.

Kingdom Keys is a Bible teaching ministry, passionate about teaching the truth of God’s Word in a clear, practical and effective way. They have found through the many people they met in prisons, “many genuinely want to change, some  convert to Christianity for the first time and others return from backsliding into a criminal lifestyle.”  The team  deliver a 4-week course within a national HMS prison; the theme for the weekend is entitled Battle of the Mind.  Satan never plays fair. And the reason why it is so intense is that your greatest asset is the mind. I know what it is like when you unable to hear God. My mind is distracted and I cannot seem to connect with God even when I want to connect to God. And I know whatever gets your mind gets me. So one of the most important things we need to be learnt and teach others is how to guard, strengthen, and renew our minds, because the battle for sin always starts in the mind.

However,  from within the prison walls of  HMP Brixton they are more than willing to announce that their prisoners are given access to faith-based services within the prison’s establishment.  ‘Faith in the Future’ is a six-week, full-time resettlement course.  It runs for 30 men, five times a year and covers victim awareness, budgeting, parenting, communication skills and employability. They discuss moral issues and have a module called Christianity Explored.  HMP Brixton went on to say that the course is open to men of any faith who are willing to explore from a Christian perspective the resettlement issues that might bind their minds or infect their conscience.

Mandy’s story…

by Mandy Fenn-StoneMandy Stone

Hi,  you are probably thinking to yourself, “what is all this about?” – well stop thinking and let me explain. Well to start with, my name is Mandy (but most people call me Dee for short). I am a member of St. Margaret’s Parish Church and due to the help and support from the Church and finding my faith I am now a survivor of Self-Harming. The reason why I am trying to raise awareness within the Churches about Self-Harming is because I was a Self-Harmer for 14 years. It started when I was about 14 years old and I stopped 4 years ago. A lot of people tried to help me but couldn’t stop me from hurting myself.

Seeing me trying to kill myself bit by bit was hurting many people around me. It was a long hard road for the people because I started going to Church with my foster brother and it took a lot of prayer from a lot of people. On the 20th January 2002, I was christened and shortly after I took part in an Alpha Course and was later Confirmed.

For many reasons I rebelled against Christianity and the Church for about 9 months.

MandyF
I had reached rock bottom when I let Jesus into my life and have not self-harmed for 4 years, so for 14 years of self-harming and with all the help that obviously failed around me, the night that I asked Jesus into my life and to take over, he did and my life was just tops. I still had my ups and downs but I never felt the need to hurt myself any more. I knew that Jesus was me every day.

To me, if it wasn’t for the Church, their prayers and for telling me about Jesus, I wouldn’t be here telling you all about this. So that is why I feel that that Churches can help self-harmer’s to come out of it and to have a life beyond their belief. I have been doing a lot of research on Self-Harming and this is what we have come up with:

Approximately 142,000 Hospital admissions each year in England and Wales are the result of Self-Harming (Mental Health Foundation, 1999). Some of the reasons that they have come up with for this happening are;

CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES: Sexual Abuse 40% Bullying 30% Neglect 25% Emotional Abuse 25% Parental Divorce 20%

ADULT EXPERIENCES:  Rape/Sexually Abusive Experience 25% Lack of Support 25% Abusive Relationship 15% Even children as young as seven years old deliberately cut, bruise and burn themselves in secret. The Mental Health Foundation say that each year some 24,000 teenagers self-harm so badly that they are admitted to Hospital. In the last month, Childline has seen an alarming increase of almost 30% a year in the number of callers who injure their own bodies according to the National Inquiry into self-harming.

The Charity received 4,300 such calls in 2003/4. More than 60% cut, bruised, banged their heads against walls, pulled their hair out or burnt themselves. Many children harm themselves up to 10 times a day and some say it is the only way they can deal with the pressure that daily life triggers – these pressures include Bullying, Abusive Parents, and Parental Divorce.

There is also some evidence that self-harm is part of a group activity and children are being pressurised into doing so. Self-Harming behaviour does not necessarily mean the person has been abused. It could be because somewhere along the line they did not learn good ways of coping with overwhelming thoughts or feelings. It does not mean that the person is sick or disgusting or as some people say – “sick in the head”. It is just that they have never learned positive ways to deal with their thoughts/feelings. Most people who self-harm tend to be perfectionists, who are unable to handle intense feelings, are unable to express their emotions verbally, have dislike for themselves and their bodies and can experience severe mood swings. They may turn to self-harming as a way to express their feelings and emotions, or as a way to punish themselves. You may be wondering why someone would intentionally harm themselves.

Self-harming can help someone relieve intense feelings such as anger, sadness, loneliness, shame, guilt and emotional pain. It has been proven scientifically that the body releases a chemical called Seratonin which when released, leaves the body feeling calm. Many people who cut themselves do this in an attempt to try and release all the emotions they are feeling internally. Others may feel so numb that when they see their own blood when they cut, it makes them feel alive because they usually feel so dead inside.

Some people find that dealing with physical pain is easier than dealing with emotional pain. Self-harming is also used as a way to punish themselves. If they were abused they may feel ashamed, guilty and blame themselves for the abuse, which in turn causes them to feel the need to punish themselves by inflicting pain on their bodies. Some people have such hatred for themselves and their bodies that they will carve demeaning names into their skin as a way of reminding them of how terrible they are. It is like when I think back to my self-harming and the way that I would be feeling. It is like the anxiety of my inner battle was becoming unbearable, I wanted to let something out. The anxiety would have been so easy to give in to, whereby then I would again lose all awareness of my surroundings and myself.

I would cry and look desperately into my eyes reflected in the mirror, wanting to know the answers to the way out of my mental prison. I began to cut myself in anger and hate my own body. I was sure that I had feelings but they didn’t seem to show. I became very violent towards myself. The world around me was becoming as unforgiving and intolerant as I was to myself. I would lay down after a violent outburst and fall asleep, very drunk. Sometimes I would wake up in another part of the room, hiding from something in the room which only my sleeping mind had seen, so I would get up, have more drink and drugs and cut again to stop the feelings. Then I would lie there in silence until it was light. There was so much silence in my head and everything else seemed a thousand miles away. My energy was gone, I would stare at the ceiling of my bedroom, the silence inside my head was so loud. The more I kept to myself, or kept others at a distance, the clearer things become. I would return to this state and would only then feel I was being true to myself.

Having Jesus in my life now has made me look at things in a very different light. You see, to be an anybody, anywhere is to look into the eyes of someone who matters to you and know that they don’t care what or who you are, where you have been or what you have achieved. To be an anybody, anywhere is to look into those eyes and know that if you see love there, then you have earned it. Not for being a walking achievement or an interesting case or a social inspiration or a charity case, but just for being you. That is the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. A loving and understanding heart, not someone that is looking at what you did, He looks at what you will become. I have now found the best friendship and a sense of belonging and the love that I have always longed for. The mask that I had hidden behind for so long has now gone and I am no longer a label but a child of God. 1 John 4.18: – There is no fear in love, perfect love drives out all fear. So then love has not been made perfect in anyone who is afraid, because fear has to do with punishment. We love because God first loved us.

JESUS HEALED ONE MAN WHO’S NAME WAS MOB ( MARK 5:2,5 )

If you look at it from a Christian side you will see that self-harming was going on 2000 years ago when Jesus healed Mob. Mark ( 5:2,5 ).  As soon as Jesus got out of the boat, he was met by a man who come out of the burial caves, there this man had an evil spirit in him and lived among the tombs. Nobody could keep him chained up any more; many time’s his feet and hands had been chained but every time he broke the chains and smashed the irons on his feet he was too strong for anyone to control him. Day and night he wandered among the tombs and through the hills screaming and CUTTING HIMSELF WITH STONES. You see even then, people didn’t understand and found it frightening.