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Prisoners with Mental Disorders in Europe   Back Bookmark and Share

Ir Med J. 2009 Oct;102(9):302.
There is a paucity of data relating to mental health in prisons in certain European countries1,2.  Recent years have seen advances in this area in Ireland3,4, and the need for such data in other countries is underlined not only by the high prevalence of psychiatric disorders in prisons5, but also by fluctuations in suicides rates in prisons.  In Ireland, for example, the week following the prison suicide of Dr Harold Shipman (in England) in 2004 saw a peak in prison suicides that was unlikely to have occurred by chance (Poisson distribution P=0.0018) and may have been attributable to the Werther effect (i.e. copy-cat effects) amongst Irish prisoners, 90% of whom have in-cell television.6
There has been a similar peak in suicides in French prisons this year: in the first two weeks of January 2009, 13 suicides were reported in French prisons (inquests pending), compared to a mean of 4.42 in each two-week period in 20087. Notwithstanding France’s generally rising prison population, such a peak is unlikely to have occurred by chance (Poisson distribution P=0.0005).  These unexplained fluctuations in rates of suicide in prison highlight the need for greater awareness of, and research into, mental health problems in prisons.

BD Kelly
Department of Adult Psychiatry, University College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Eccles Street, Dublin 7,
Tel.: + 353 1 803 4474
Fax: + 353 1 830 9323
[email protected]

1. Dressing H, Kief C, Salize H-J. Prisoners with mental disorders in Europe. Br J Psychiatry 2009; 194: 88.
2. Salize HJ, Dressing H, Kief C. Mentally disordered persons in European prison systems – needs, programmes and outcome (EUPRIS) (
3. Wright B, Duffy D, Curtin K, Linehan S, Monks S, Kennedy HG. Psychiatric morbidity among women prisoners newly committed and amongst remanded and sentenced women in the Irish prison system. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine 2006; 23: 47-53.
4. Duffy D, Linehan S, Kennedy HG. Psychiatric morbidity in the male sentenced Irish prisons population. Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine 2006; 23: 54-62.
5. Fazel D, Danesh J. Serious mental disorders in 23 000 prisoners: a systematic review of 62 surveys. Lancet 2002; 359:545–50.
6. Kelly BD, Kennedy HG. Suicide in prisons. Br J Psychiatry 2005; 186: 354-7.
7. Salles A. Prisons: quatorze jours, treize suicides. Le Monde, 16 January 2009.


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