Nurses have played an important part in assessing and treating inmate suicidal behaviour, as they have been responsible for documenting the initial medical history of all inmates within 24 hours of admission. They advise corrections physicians and custodial staff early in the process about any inmate judged to be at risk of suicide because of apparently severe emotional crisis and, therefore, requiring counselling, medical or psychiatric help. There is also a need for nurses to visit inmates in the housing units, for by being more visible to the inmates, there is an increased chance that inmates will discuss their concerns and problems with the nurses. Nurses are not only medical staff, they also perform the tasks of case-finder, counsellor, group therapist, suicidologist, caretaker and crisis intervener.

One of the more expedient treatment methods for suicidal behaviour has been the use of medications. However, the side effects of these drugs has also been known to aggravate suicidal tendencies. The depressant drugs used to alleviate emotional crisis or chronic psychosis induce a state of passivity, reduce agitation and aggression, as well as the mood swings associated with severe psychotic disturbances. However, because these drugs generally have medical side effects, anti- depressants have been used to eliminate the side effects. As a result, inmates treated with these drugs swing between euphoria and depression and, under such influences, depressives who are already potentially suicidal often make suicide attempts.

An effective method for dramatically reducing incidents of suicide is the implementation of inmate peer support programs (Roger & Lariviere, 1998). Drumheller’s Samaritans program in Alberta and Leclerc’s V.I.V.A. program in Quebec are two notable examples of inmate peer support programs. Because fellow inmates are often the first to recognize a distressed or suicidal inmate, and the fact that inmates may confide more readily to inmate peers, these types of programs do have a “beneficial effect...by reducing the incidence of self-injury or suicide and improving the overall prison environment” ( p. 19). Although very few inmate peer support groups currently operate in Canadian institutions, the Correctional Service of Canada intends to implement more programs in its medium and minimum security institutions over the course of the next year.


BACK CONTENTS NEXT