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Improving your mental health

This is a short information page about improving your mental health. It’s for information only.  We are unable to provide advice on this.  For reasons why, click here.


People with convictions often feel unhappy, depressed, stressed or anxious. How we feel about ourselves affects the way we behave and how we cope with the worries of everyday life and the tougher times that we sometimes face.

The first step towards self-help is to admit that you are struggling. This does not mean you are “mentally ill” and many issues can be managed without the help of a GP by using the variety of self-help resources now available.

If you do need professional help, there is a wide range of support and services available to help you take back control of your life.

What is mental health and why is it important?

Mental health is a state of emotional and psychological well-being. It affects the way we think, feel and act. Good mental health enables us to meet the challenges of day-to-day life and allows us to feel joy and comfort.

Mental health disorders can also affect physical health leading to significant tiredness, sleeping problems, stomach pain, back pain, headaches, other forms of chronic pain, weight gain, diminished sexual desire and a weakened immune function.

Just like issues with physical health, problems with mental health can incapacitate us and prevent us from successfully managing our daily life. Mental disorders can make it difficult to find and keep a job and to get suitable housing. They can also lead to other serious drawbacks; people with convictions who have mental health illnesses are at an elevated risk of re-arrest and re-incarceration.

Caring for your mental health can improve your life and lead to fewer problems and struggles.

Who suffers from mental health problems?

Just like with physical health, anybody can suffer from mental health problems irrespective of their age, gender and background. About 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem each year.

Certain factors can increase the risk of developing mental health problems:-

  • Having a blood relative (a parent or a sibling) with a mental illness
  • Stressful life situations such as financial struggles, a loved one’s death or a divorce
  • Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury) such as a violent blow to the head
  • Traumatic experiences such as military combat, assault or sexual abuse
  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships

Do people with convictions have an elevated risk of mental health difficulties?

People with convictions are often exposed to several risk factors at the same time. This can be a reason why mental health problems are common among people with convictions. Around 70% of men and women in prison have two or more mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Many have a history to attempted suicide and self-harm, while significant numbers have on-going illnesses such as schizophrenia and personality disorders.

Are mental health problems treatable?

Most mental health disorders – especially common ones such as anxiety and depression – are treatable. Some people recover completely, others learn to manage the problem effectively. There are a number of specialist services that provide various treatments, including counselling and other talking treatments. Crisis and home treatment teams can help in an emergency and provide help in your own home. Most people recover from mental health disorders without needing to go into hospital.

When to look for help

It is worth seeking help when:-

  • You experience distress (including sadness, anger, irritability, fear, anxiety, helplessness, confusion and embarrassment) for more than just a few hours at a time, or the distress lasts for longer periods of time such as weeks and months
  • You find that distress interferes with your everyday life
  • You’ve experienced an excruciating situation and you can’t seem to stop thinking about it
  • The distress you feel leads to risky thoughts and behaviour, such as considering suicide or harming yourself to alleviate painful feelings
  • You feel distressed frequently and you do not really know why
  • You continue feeling bad even when good things happen to you
  • You feel a need to use alcohol or drugs in order to feel better
  • You’ve lost someone or something important to you
  • A friend or family member tells you he or she is worried about you

How to find out what is wrong

The first step would be to make an appointment with your GP. They can refer you to Community Health Services to find out what is happening with you and how to best deal with the problem. Community mental health teams aim to provide the day-to-day support needed to allow a person with mental health problems to live in the community.

If you prefer not to go to your GP, you might be able to access support through a range of other services in the voluntary sector. Many of these will have websites or helplines that you can contact.

Unlock staff and volunteers are not experts on mental health issues, and we cannot offer specific help or advice, but the following is a summary of the websites that we found to be helpful.



Simply talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled.  Read more at the Mental Health Foundation website.


The Mental Health Foundation offers a number of free audio podcasts that can help you relax and improve your sense of wellbeing. They are designed to fit around your lifestyle and provide an introduction to the skills and techniques that can help you live a mentally healthier life.

NHS Moodzone

NHS Choices has a very useful page called Moodzone. The content is “sub-clinical”, which means it deals with feelings, mood and common life problems that are not clinical diagnoses. It is helpful if you have been feeling down for a few days, or you are having a stressful time which is causing you to feel worried and anxious. A good starting point is the online mood assessment quiz, which takes about 10 minutes to complete and offers useful information, interactive tools and videos to support you on your way to feeling better.

Professional services


You should make an appointment to see your GP if you feel depressed or if you feel sad, hopeless and lose interest in things you used to enjoy. Mental health services are free on the NHS, but you will usually need a referral from your GP to access them.

Mental Health Services

If you want to talk to someone right away, or if you are in a crisis or emergency situation, the NHS Choices website has a list of mental health helplines and emergency telephone numbers.

Other help and advice

There is a huge range of organisations that can offer help and advice. Click here for further information.

For organisations that can provide counselling services click here.

More information

  1. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  2. Questions – If you have any questions about this you can contact our helpline.




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Photo of Head of Advice, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Head of Advice

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