Mental health among persons subject to Probation Service Supervision in Ireland

By Dr. Christina L. Power, Irish Probation Service

Internationally, the prevalence of mental health problems and mental illness among people subject to Probation Service supervision is significantly higher than in the general population. The internal studies conducted in 2019 in the Irish Probation Service, which are outlined in this report, show that Ireland is no exception.

Until recently in Ireland there has been a paucity of data and research on mental health problems among persons subject to Probation Service supervision. A number of small scale practitioner studies (Griffin, 2008; Cotter, 2015; Foley, 2016) highlighted concerns regarding the incidence of mental health problems among the population. The studies were limited in their focus but were instrumental in drawing attention to the field by identifying significant gaps in knowledge and the need for further evaluation and action.

The 2019 studies, go much further and focus specifically on examining the nature and extent of mental health problems among persons subject to Probation Service supervision. The studies examine existing data based on initial assessment, development and pilot of a measure specially developed for the studies in one team and a third study which replicated the methodology study on a larger representative population of those subject to a Probation Supervision Order in Ireland. Probation Officers completed two measures for each client on their caseload based on their knowledge, observation and any available collateral information.
The three studies are consistent in identifying that, at least 40% of adults on a Probation Supervision Order, compared to 18.5% of the general population in Ireland, present with symptoms indicative of one or more mental health problem. Furthermore, approximately 50% of all people supervised by the Probation Service in the community that present with mental health problems also present with one or more of the following issues as well: alcohol and drug misuse, difficult family relationships, and accommodation instability.

The third and the largest study based on a population of 500 clients highlights several key findings which are outlined in detail in the report, but for the purpose of this short introduction the following are notable.

  • 43% experience Active Symptoms of Mental Health Problems; 10% experience symptoms indicative of serious and/or severe and enduring mental health problems; 1 in 10 people expressed suicidal thoughts or ideas at the time of completion.
  • 30% are engaged with a service for Mental Health Assessment and/or Intervention currently (49% women; 28% men), mostly through their GP/medication; less than 1.4% engaged with Primary or Secondary Care Psychology Services.
  • 56% have had some form of Mental Health Assessment and/or Intervention in the Past (70% women; 52% men); 11% of persons have had In-Patient Psychiatric Care in the Past.
  • 41% are identified as having a known Mental Health Diagnosis provided by a qualified clinician (52% women; 38% men), most often an anxiety disorder or Mood disorder; however, 8% have a formal diagnosis of Schizophrenia/Primary Psychotic Disorder.

It is clear that there are significant and unmet psychological and psychiatric needs among those persons subject to Probation Supervision and there is limited access and engagement with mental health services. To address this, it is recommended that The Probation Service:

  • Strengthen knowledge and develop skills-based training in mental health for Probation Service staff to aid recognition of mental health problems and where identified, ensuring that the appropriate services are involved at assessment and/or intervention.
  • Improve and strengthen Probation Service engagement with mainstream primary care and forensic and community mental health service providers and the development of joined-up strategies and interventions.
  • Have improved access and engagement routes to mental health services; there is a need for cross agency working and a focused government approach to ensure this can happen.

The full report ‘MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER: MENTAL HEALTH AMONG PERSONS SUPERVISED BY THE PROBATION SERVICE’ Probation Service Research Report 7 March 2021 can be downloaded here:

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