Mental Health

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Entering the criminal justice system can have a significant impact on your mental health. You might already have an underlying mental health condition, or you might suddenly find yourself needing help and support for your mental health.

Whether your mental health issues are new or existing, it is vital that you have access to the right support, at the right time. It is known that people who have been involved with the criminal justice system are at real risk of experiencing mental health challenges.

There are a number of ways in which the criminal justice system can impact mental health:

  • It’s estimated that, in the general population in Scotland, 25% of people are affected by mental health challenges. In the prison population this increases to 76%.
  • Arrest, court processes and detention can be traumatic experiences, and can lead to feelings of anxiety, fear, and humiliation. In some cases, people might experience suicidal thoughts.
  • The stress of trial and sentencing: The prospect of being convicted and sentenced for a crime can be very stressful. People may worry about the impact on their family and friends, their job, and their future.
  • The experience of imprisonment: Imprisonment can be very isolating and dehumanising. It can also be a very stressful environment, with high levels of noise and violence. People in prison are also at an increased risk of self-harm and suicide.
  • The experience of being stigmatised and discriminated against as a result of having been involved with the criminal justice system, can also lead to mental health challenges such as depression and anxiety.
  • Mental health challenges can be a contributing factor in offending behaviour.
  • The trauma of the media and having names and addresses reported: This can further compound feeling of shame and isolation, and can present a threat to a person’s sense of safety.
  • Community and public backlash to crimes can lead to isolation and loss of social connection.
  • The loss of family members: Some family members may no longer be in contact and may not have been able to remain supportive. This can compound feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.
  • The loss of a job and sources of income: Money worries can cause significant mental health issues.
  • Struggling to find housing and employment can cause feelings of anxiety, hopelessness and depression.

Whilst it can feel difficult to reach out and get help for mental health, it is important to remember that you are not alone.There are a number of healthcare professionals and organisations and charities whose job it is to make sure that you get the right support.  

If you are struggling with your mental health, there are many and veried options available to you.

A table with examples of appropriate language use

Free support

Living Life

Living Life is a free NHS phone service offering therapy for anyone in Scotland aged 16 and over with:

  • Low mood
  • Mild to moderate depression
  • Anxiety
  • A combination of these symptom

Contact: 0800 328 9655

Going to your GP

Your GP should be able to refer you to a counsellor, a therapist or psychiatrist.

They may also offer to prescribe medication such as antidepressants.

Breathing Space

Breathing Space is a free and confidential phone line for people experiencing low mood or depression.

Contact: 0800 83 85 87

Papyrus (for people under 35)

Papyrus is a free helpline for anyone under the age of 35 who is thinking about taking their own life. Also for anyone concerned about a young person.

Contact: 0800 068 41 41


The Samaritans helpline offers confidential support to anyone who is feeling distress or despair.

Contact: 116 123

Release Ayrshire

Release Ayrshire is an online men’s support service that has been set up to help provide confidential support and advice to men of any age who are down, in crisis or simply need to talk.

Support you can pay for

For some people, private therapy is an option.  The British Association for Counsellors and Psychotherapists have a search facility on their website that will help you to find a private counsellor or therapist near you.


StopSO provide specialist therapy across the UK to people who are under investigation or have been arrested for a sexual offence and those who have yet to act on their ‘troubling thoughts’.

StopSO also work with families, helping them come to terms with being related to a person who has committed for a sex offender.

They also work with survivors of offending, offering therapy and ongoing support.

A table showing the notification periods for the various sentence types. Prison sentence of 30 months or more (including life), Indefinite. Order for lifelong restriction, Indefinite. Admission to a hospital subject to a restriction order, Indefinite. Prison sentence of more than 6 months but less than 30 months, 10 years. Prison sentence of 6 months or less, 7 years. Admission to a hospital without a restriction order, 7 years. Community payback order with an offender supervision requirement, The length of the offender supervision requirement. Any other sentence (e.g. a fine or admonition), 5 years.

Know your rights

You have specific rights when you are waiting for or receiving treatment for your mental health.  SAMH, a Scottish national mental health charity, has produced an overview of your rights.

The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003

This came into effect on 5 October 2005. It sets out how you can be treated if you have a mental illness including dementia, a learning disability or a personality disorder, and what your rights are.

The Act covers issues like:

  • When you can be given treatment against your will
  • When you can be taken into hospital against your will
  • What your rights are
  • What safeguards there are to make sure that your rights are protected

The New Mental Health Act: A guide for people involved in criminal justice proceedings explains how you may receive treatment and be cared for after becoming involved with the criminal justice system.

Last updated:
March 5, 2024


The following organisations offer support on this topic.

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