Every woman I have mentored with Shine has mental health issues, ranging from moderate to severe and it contributes to their offending behaviour. It can be difficult to talk about mental health for anyone, but particularly the exceptionally vulnerable women that Shine works with.
I have recently started working with a new Shine Mentee “B” and at our last meeting in a coffee shop, B talked to me about her mood and how she was feeling up to and since leaving prison last month. She was feeling anxious the nearer it got to her liberation date for many reasons; how would she cope staying away from drugs?; how was she going to get her benefits arranged?; would she be able to keep strong and stay away from the people she normally associated with?; what was going to happen with her impending eviction order? These are many of the issues our women face and B talked about how overwhelmed she felt, despite the help from the many organisations she had been offered. These ranged from addiction services, to social work to women’s trauma services and also Shine. It was almost too much for her.
After leaving prison she has been trying hard to get her benefits sorted and has been offered help to do this, but as she explained to me, deep down she feels that she is going to let everyone down, so she has refused a lot of the help she has been offered. She went to see her doctor to talk about her mental health but the first GP she visited made her feel uncomfortable and she left feeling ashamed to discuss her feelings. She did go back however, and found another GP whom she felt able to share her story.
The way Shine can help is to really listen to our women, knowing that we can’t “fix” their problems but we can encourage and support. B told me after our tea and scone in the coffee shop that she felt better after our chat and just being able to talk without judgement, was a big help. For that short time, she felt her mood had lifted.
I am not a qualified counsellor and there are many organisations that the women may already be involved with who can help; alternatively Shine mentors can help women approach the right organisations to provide that specialist aid. However this can all take time so what I am able to do is listen empathetically. Sometimes allowing a woman to talk, like B said, can be enough for her in that moment, to feel a little bit better.