NIMHANS suggests ‘Gatekeeper Model’ to prevent suicides in prisons

In a bid to prevent suicides triggered by mental health issues in prisons across the country, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS), Bengaluru, has recommended the “Gatekeeper Model” where selected inmates, trained to identify prisoners at risk of suicide, would refer them to treatment or supportive services.

Acting on the request of the Ministry of Home Affairs, NIMHANS, an Institute of National Importance, issued a set of guidelines on the management of mental health issues of the prisoners and prison staff. Referring to the Bangalore Prison Mental Health Study, the advisory pointed to the prevalence of mental illness and substance use disorder in about 80% of the prison population.

NIMHANS experts said prisoners with mental disorders had to be regularly assessed for severity of suicidal risk and also put on regular and supervised medication. To address the prisoner’s mental health needs, the correctional facility should have links to community-based initiatives like the District Mental Health Programme.

“Buddy system”

The advisory said the concept of a ‘Buddy System’ — social support through trained prisoners called “buddies” or “listeners” — was found to have a good impact on the well-being of suicidal prisoners. Periodic telephone conversations with friends and family would also foster support, it said.

These initiatives were part of several other recommendations made by NIMHANS to effectively manage mental health issues among prisoners and staff.

Communicating the guidelines to all States, the MHA said the COVID-19 virus had posed unique challenges to the world and prisons and correctional facilities were also affected by the pandemic. Though appropriate measures were taken by the authorities to check the spread of the virus in prisons, there was a need to continue monitoring the situation rigorously without letting the guard down and provide care to inmates and prison staff.

Emphasising on the mental health of prisoners, the Ministry said incarcerated people could face many vulnerabilities during the pandemic such as anxiety, stress, deprivation of support from family, concern about the well-being of their loved ones etc., which might impact their mental wellbeing. The prison staff was also working under tremendous pressure and faced challenges in performing their duty while safeguarding themselves from contracting the infection.

Taking cognizance of the challenges faced by prison inmates and staff, the MHA said it had engaged with the Department of Psychiatry, NIMHANS, requesting them to prepare guidelines for addressing the mental health needs of prisoners and staff with focus on empowering them to handle issues during the pandemic.

In Tamil Nadu, Director-General of Police, Prison & Correctional Services, Sunil Kumar Singh said 58 mobile phones were purchased for prisoners to make video calls to their family members in lieu of the physical interviews that were temporarily suspended in view of the pandemic.


Also, the State was in the forefront in the implementation of ePrisons initiatives which had several modules, including e-Mulakat that was an online platform enabling relatives/friends/ advocates of prisoners to book prior appointments for interviewing prisoners through the National Prisons Information Portal. This was in addition to the video/voice call facility through mobile phones/telephone booths.

Mr. Singh said that e-Mulakat facility was functional at 110 locations covering all the 9 central prisons, 5 Special Prisons for Women, 12 District Jails and 84 Sub Jails & Special Sub Jails in Tamil Nadu. As many as 770 persons had interviewed prisoners between July 6 and July 21, 2021, he said.

(Assistance for overcoming suicidal thoughts is available on the helpline number 104.)

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 3:33:32 PM |

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