Prison, ADHD, and The Mental Health Scandal…

Untreated ADHD for teenagers that don’t have much support (or even a diagnosis) often ends in teen pregnancy for girls, and juvenile delinquency for boys. Undiagnosed, these young kids often seek thrills and danger, and go off the rails, attracted to the mad, bad and dangerous, ending up in prison.

The Guardian piece this weekend documents how the failure of mental health services to identify or deal with the problem early  on is leading to bedlam in prisons, as more and more young offenders are ending up inside without support for their mental health issues. Around 10% of prisoners, 8,000 offenders, are in the nick with serious mental problems, with around 20 per cent having ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or autism. All of these conditions are treatable, with medication and behavioural support, and all it takes is a little bit of energy and focus on the individual.

The younger they are treated, the more responsive they are. However, up until 2006, ADHD wasn’t even recognised by the NHS as existing in adults, once children with the condition reached 18 all support vanished. While ADHD in adults is now being slowly recognised, it still takes expert psychiatrists to adjust medication and treat this complex neurological disability.

While the Guardian piece concentrates on the really extreme mental health cases, with inmates who turn to suicide, or murdering their fellow inmates, you can’t help feeling that the headline grabbing cases are just the tip of the iceberg. How many of these bored, frustrated, young offenders shouldn’t be in there at all?

Two charities I am supporting with a bit of time, rather than money is Key4Life and Fine Cell Work . The former is a new charity, which gives young offenders on the outside some intense support to rebuild their life and find work, adopting positive strategies away from the gang culture. The other provides inmates with a sense of purpose and something to do when they are banged up for 18 hours, fingers twitching over the needlework, some of them going on to stitch their way to earning thousands of pounds and saving the money for the outside.

I hope that by the time my teenage ADHDer reaches my age, we will see mental health for what it is. Something that needs support, not punishment.

Until then, we languish in the Victorian era, and as the Guardian headline says: “We are recreating Bedlam”.

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