Predictors of mental health service utilization in the 12 months before imprisonment: analysis of results from a national prisons survey


  • Michael Farrell,

  • Annabel Boys,

  • Nicola Singleton,

  • Howard Meltzer,

  • Traolach Brugha,

  • Paul Bebbington,

  • Rachel Jenkins,

  • Jeremy Coid,

  • Glyn Lewis,

  • John Marsden

Michael Farrell, Reader in Addiction Psychiatry (Correspondence); Annabel Boys, Research Worker; Rachel Jenkins, Professor; John Marsden, Senior Lecturer
Institute of Psychiatry, Kings College London, De Crespigny Park, PO Box 48, London SE5 8AF, UK. Email:

Nicola Singleton, Principle Social Survey Officer; Howard Meltzer, Depaty Chief Statistician
Office for National Statistics, London, UK

Traolach Brugha, Professor
University of Leicester, Department of Health Sciences, Brandon Mental Health Unit, Leicester General Hospital, Leicester, UK

Paul Bebbington, Professor
UCL, Department of Mental Health Sciences, University College London Medical School, London, UK

Jeremy Coid, Professor
Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, UK

Glyn Lewis, Professor
Division of Psychiatry, Bristol University, Bristol, UK


Objective:  To describe the self-reported history of health service utilization and help-seeking to those who are drug-dependent in the period of time prior to imprisonment.

Method:  A cross-section survey of 3142 sentenced or remand prisoners in English prisons completed private, face-to-face interviews with trained Office for National Statistics staff covering a full structured psychiatric assessment interview. Specific questions about service utilization prior to imprisonment were included, as were questions on patterns of drug use and dependence prior to imprisonment.

Results:  Receipt of any form of help was demographically most strongly associated with being older, white and female. Women were about twice as likely as men to report having received help for mental or emotional problems. Older age was also consistently associated with greater levels of reporting having received help, for both genders but only for use of general practitioners. Being black was strongly associated with reduced likelihood of receiving help and this was maintained after adjusting for other sociodemographic variables. Opioid dependence alone or opioid dependence with stimulant dependence, psychiatric disorder alone and probable psychosis were all most predictive of service use in the 12 months prior to imprisonment.

Conclusions:  In the year prior to imprisonment, the majority of mental health needs of these individual prisoners were not able to access help prior to imprisonment. Future strategies should aim for better health access beofre, during and after imprisonment.