20 March 2024

rural nurse - shutterstock_1701457318_web.jpgPrison nurses are receiving specialist psychosocial training as part of a new University of South Australia research project to support the mental health needs of people in custody in rural South Australia.

Conducted in partnership with Central Adelaide Local Health Network (CALHN) South Australian Prison Health Service (SAPHS), the trial hopes to show that specialised skills built through an online education platform can help frontline nurses deliver evidenced-based mental health treatments within the correctional health system.

Working across four rural prison sites– Port Lincoln, Port Augusta, Mobilong (near Murray Bridge) and Cadell – nurses are completing UniSA’s online Professional Certificate in Behavioural Activation for Depression with researchers assessing their ability to better support to people in custody experiencing symptoms of depression.

Behavioural activation is a psychosocial intervention that focuses on supporting people living with depression to engage in meaningful activities to improve mood and motivation.

UniSA’s Associate Professor Martin Jones says the study is addressing pressing, yet underserved, mental health needs of people in custody, especially those in rural areas.

“People in custody face extremely high rates of depressive disorders. Yet too often people in custody encounter significant barriers to accessing psychological treatments such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or specialist mental health workers,” Assoc Prof Jones says.

“Our online Professional Certificate in Behavioural Activation is ideally suited for people in working in remote areas as it lets students learn at their own pace and in their own time.

“We’re hoping that this opportunity could present custodial nurses with a convenient and accessible means to enhance their skills and contribute to a more responsive local care community. Beyond this, the program has the potential to extend across Australia.”

The innovative program reflects UniSA’s commitment to advancing flexible new teaching and learning approaches with a focus on community impact. This is particularly important in the field of mental health where accessibility to specialised training is traditionally limited.

Mobilong Prison registered nurse, Jolene Murray, says the course is filling a much-needed gap in the system.

“This program will be extremely beneficial for SAPHS clinicians in providing a psychosocial treatment for depression, especially those clinicians working on mental health portfolios,” Murray says.

“I am very excited to be a part of the Behavioural Activation clinical trial and I believe that addressing high rates of depression within the prison population through psychosocial treatment, will not only have a positive effect on consumers, but also reduce reoffending.”

Janice Scott a custodial nurse at Port Augusta prison says the program presents a pioneering approach to patient-centred care in corrections.

“This course has been a great resource for people in custody who have depression,” Scott says.

“Already, it has helped many of our patients to overcome their depression and gain employment in the prison. But importantly, it has also helped them to communicate with their family on the outside.”

And the program is delivering results. After completing six sessions with a custodial nurse, one of the program participants said that the program provided effective strategies to help manage their anxiety.

This participant is now contributing positively by working in the kitchen and intends to join the study’s consumer advisory group to ensure the trial is focussed on patients' needs.


Note for editors:


Media contact: Annabel Mansfield M: +61 479 182 489 E: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au 

Researcher: Assoc Prof Martin Jones E: Martin.Jones@unisa.edu.au

Other articles you may be interested in