RESEARCH WEEKLY: Recovery Barriers for People with Serious Mental Illness Post-Incarceration
By: Kelli South
Incarceration complicates and sometimes negatively impacts the recovery prospects for individuals with serious mental illness. The common issues faced by anyone involved in the criminal justice system are exacerbated for those with serious mental illness, making their odds of recidivism high and odds of recovering lower.
A new study recently released in Psychological Services validates these claims and backs them up with empirical evidence. The authors seek to fill the gap in existing research about recovery prospects specifically for individuals who have been incarcerated and have a serious mental illness. Major barriers to recovery associated with incarceration include societal factors that cause those with serious mental illness to be incarcerated at a higher rate than the rest of the population, lack of reentry services after incarceration and lack of alternative treatment options for individuals to keep them from entering into the criminal justice system.
A qualitative analysis of interviews with people with serious mental illness
The authors conducted qualitative interviews with 17 participants who have a serious mental illness and a history of criminal justice system involvement. They used a methodology called grounded theory, which looks for commonalities across the interviews and categorizes them into overarching themes.
The definition of recovery that the authors use in this study is different from some traditional health definitions: “Recovery in this context does not refer to a remission of symptoms alone. Rather, recovery is defined as regaining a quality of life, increased symptom management, hope, acceptance, and a renewed sense of self.”
The significant limitations of this study are worth noting. A sample size of only 17 people from a rural part of Northern California may not be generalizable to a larger population of people with serious mental illness. Additionally, the characteristics and demographics of the sample do not match up with the general population. Thus, the small sample size and differences between the sample participants and the country as a whole mean the authors cannot say how their findings might be affected by these limitations.
Barriers and facilitators for recovery
The themes that emerged from the interviews were categorized into five groups: institutional, community, relationship, treatment and identity factors. Researchers found major barriers to recovery in each of the categories and they also discovered facilitators to recovery in each category. Many of the barriers to recovery were associated with a lack of treatment for the participant’s serious mental illness while they were incarcerated and after they were released. Similarly, the benefits participants cited from their incarceration experience primarily occurred for those who gained increased access to community services and treatment during and after incarceration.
The findings of the first two themes, which provide insight into the broader policy issues, are summarized below.