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The mental health of ex-prisoners: analysis of the 2014 English National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity

Bebbington, P. E., McManus, S. ORCID: 0000-0003-2711-0819, Coid, J. W. , Garside, R. & Brugha, T. (2021). The mental health of ex-prisoners: analysis of the 2014 English National Survey of Psychiatric Morbidity. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 56, pp. 2083-2093. doi: 10.1007/s00127-021-02066-0


Prisoners experience extremely high rates of psychiatric disturbance. However, ex-prisoners have never previously been identified in representative population surveys to establish how far this excess persists after release. Our purpose was to provide the first community-based estimate of ex-prisoners’ mental health in England using the data from the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS).

APMS 2014 provides cross-sectional data from a random sample (N = 7546) of England’s household population aged 16 or above. Standardised instruments categorised psychiatric disorders and social circumstances. Participants who had been in prison were compared with the rest of the sample.

One participant in seventy had been in prison (1.4%; 95% CI 1.1–1.7; n = 103). Ex-prisoners suffered an excess of current psychiatric problems, including common mental disorders (CMDs), psychosis, post-traumatic disorder, substance dependence, and suicide attempts. They were more likely to screen positive for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and autistic traits, to have low verbal IQ, and to lack qualifications. They disclosed higher rates of childhood adversity, including physical and sexual abuse and local authority care. The odds (1.88; 95% CI 1.02–3.47) of CMDs were nearly doubled in ex-prisoners, even after adjusting for trauma and current socioeconomic adversity.

Prison experience is a marker of enduring psychiatric vulnerability, identifying an important target population for intervention and support. Moreover, the psychiatric attributes of ex-prisoners provide the context for recidivism. Without effective liaison between the criminal justice system and mental health services, the vulnerability of ex-prisoners to relapse and to reoffending will continue, with consequent personal and societal costs.

Publication Type: Article
Additional Information: Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit
Publisher Keywords: Ex-prisoners, Epidemiology, National survey, Mental disorders, Social context
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
R Medicine > RC Internal medicine > RC0321 Neuroscience. Biological psychiatry. Neuropsychiatry
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management
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