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Long: Prison Service playing important role in mental health support

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Justice Minister Naomi Long was joined by Interim Mental Health Champion Siobhan O’Neill on a visit to Hydebank Wood Secure College where together they met with healthcare staff and a number of female prisoners.

During the visit, which is part of a series of events by the Northern Ireland Prison Service marking Prisons Week 2020, they were able to engage directly with the women in care of the service and hear at first hand their views on support while in prison.

Naomi Long said: “It is important that the voices of those who are most vulnerable, with lived experience of mental ill health, are provided with an opportunity to be heard and for their views to influence the direction of travel.

“I am particularly grateful to those within our care who have agreed to engage with Professor O’Neill. Actively listening to those with first-hand experience will enable us to truly understand the gaps within our existing services and what will be most effective in achieving better outcomes for everyone in our community.

“It is important that everyone engages in the conversation with regards to mental wellbeing and resilience so that together, we can recognise those in need – and more importantly, to know what to do to support them.”

Interim Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill said: “As we design a 10 year strategy to reform mental health service in NI it is vital that we consult with the real experts, people who are living with the difficulties that we wish to treat and support.

“The evidence shows that people who are in contact with the criminal justice system often have a history of significant trauma, and many are living with mental health conditions. It is my goal to ensure that they receive the highest quality, evidence-based treatments in a compassionate, trauma-informed environment.”

Director of the Northern Ireland Prison Service, Ronnie Armour said: “The provision of mental health services is an important part of our work. Our prison staff work with people who can have very challenging needs every day to keep them safe and to support them to rehabilitate.

“Mental health teams from our partners in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust, work alongside our staff in each establishment which include mental health nurses, psychiatrists, mental health occupational therapists and clinical psychologists.”

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