Emotional Wellbeing Mentoring Scheme at HMP Swaleside

Deborah Smith, Counsellor and Mental Health Practitioner Emotional Wellbeing Mentoring Lead at HMP Swaleside, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust worked with colleagues to develop a scheme to help people at the prison to cope with their emotional wellbeing.

HMP Swaleside is a Category B Training Prison. It accepts category B prisoners who are serving 4 years or more, or those with at least 18 months left to serve. It is a centre for prisoners in the first stage of their life sentence and also accepts prisoners in the second stage of their life sentence, with a total of 460 places for lifers.  

Good Practice
Whilst working in the in-reach team it became very apparent that a lot of people in the prison didn’t fit the criteria to be accepted onto their case load and many were struggling to cope with their emotional well-being. They had no one to go to for support which led them to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. There were schemes within the prison but none that were proactive and supportive in promoting positive emotional well-being. The counselling service had also been disbanded leaving many people struggling to deal with their feelings and past issues.  

Debbie Smith and Susie Duthoit initiated the Emotional Wellbeing Mentoring Scheme in May 2015, and continue to run it. Working with the prison, three full time paid mentors were employed along with six voluntary mentors. The mentors are chosen based on their desire to help others as well as having personal experience of positive mental health interventions. Each mentor is security checked and receives training from the in-reach team on mental health awareness, understanding personality disorders and active listening skills. Weekly supervision is provided to the full time mentors, whilst monthly supervision and training is given to both full-time and part-time mentors.  

They regularly work over 25 hours a week giving up their association time to support and help others that are struggling. The mentors undertake one-to-one support work for over 300 men. They facilitate several psycho-educational courses based on self-help information, including anger management, CBT, low mood and depression and facing up to conflict. These courses are very popular particularly because they are voluntary and not on a sentence plan. Men who have completed the courses say they are very informative and help to bring about changes in their lives; over 170 men have completed these voluntary courses so far. The mentors now run regular clinics on the wings to raise awareness of mental health and offer a place for people to gain information and sign up for the course.  

The Emotional Wellbeing Mentoring team works collaboratively with the prison and other external support services to make Swaleside a safer and more therapeutic establishment. They also work closely with the Prison Advice and Care Trust and have run several successful Family Days involving both Mentors and Mentees; these not only give a huge boost to the prisoners who attend but also give the families an insight into what their loved ones are achieving in prison.  

Feedback from current prisoners who are being supported by the Emotional Well-being Mentors has shown a reduction in self-harm.

From a sample of 60 mentees:

  • 63% had self-harmed in the past and 24% were currently using self-harm as a way of coping
  • 78% stated that they had thought of, or attempted suicide recently (within the past 12 months)

Since working with the Emotional Wellbeing mentors:

  • 57% of the men stopped or reduced their self-harming behaviour
  • 66% of these mentees had reduced or stopped both thoughts and attempts at suicide

The feedback received from prisoners and staff has been very positive and there have been noticeable benefits in terms of relieving pressure on staff, reduction in self-harm and positive engagement with other services in the prison.  

There has been a dramatic fall in self harm amongst the mentees that have ongoing support from their mentors and disruptive behaviour has decreased with fewer negative entries and general alarms.