Mental wellness initiative at Tihar prison reduced inmate suicides, says jail doctor

Updated on Apr 17, 2019 11:29 AM IST

An initiative was launched in Delhi’s Tihar Prison last year to improve prisoners’ mental wellness which helped reduce the number of suicides behind bars.

Policemen stand guard as an ambulance leaves the main entrance of Tihar Jail in New Delhi.(AFP File Photo)
Policemen stand guard as an ambulance leaves the main entrance of Tihar Jail in New Delhi.(AFP File Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By, New Delhi

Around 50%-60% of prisoners in Delhi’s Tihar jail suffer from personality disorders and behavioural problems; at least 6% have psychiatric issues – the prisons resident medical officer Dr Sanjay Lakra said Tuesday. He was speaking at a function on the completion of one year of Samarthan — an initiative that was launched to improve prisoners’ mental wellness — which he said helped reduce the number of suicides behind bars.

The prison director general Ajay Kashyap told Delhi high court chief justice Rajendra Menon, chief secretary Vijay Dev, and justice Mukta Gupta that exactly a year ago, the prison had a tie-up with the AIIMS psychiatry department and the Mental Health Foundation of India (MHFI) to work towards improving mental wellness among prisoners.

“Over the last one year, over 300 counsellers of MHFI and AIIMS doctors started working with the prison department. First, jail officials were trained to identify prisoners with mental issues. We then started working lifting them out of depression. Unlike the previous year, when there were seven cases of suicide, this year, there was only one such case. Even one suicide is one too many. We are working to ensure that there are zero suicide in prison,” Kashyap said, adding that cases of violence have reduced by 30%-35% as compared to previous years.

Also Read | Mental health drive brings down suicides in Tihar to one in a year

With over 16,000 inmates, Tihar is the most populated prison in the country. Explaining the need to improve mental wellness, Dr Lakra said that when a new prisoner is brought to jail, the prisoner is depressed and is often unable to talk about his/her problems. Dr Lakra said when the inmate is neglected and unable to accept the circumstances, it is a sign of trouble.

“…There is a drastic increase in the prevalence of mental disorders or behavioural issues within prison. Around 600-650 inmates are suffering from psychiatric disorders. In this programme, we have trained warders and head warders to identify such prisoners. At the time a prisoner enters the jail, he/she goes through a psychological evaluation and after the evaluation, we work with them. With the help of 300 counsellers, we have been able to have a better jail environment and reduce cases of disobedience and violence among inmates,” Dr Lakra said.

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