Nearly half of all women in prison have attempted suicide at some point in their lives, research from a charity reveals.

Women in Prison found that despite making up just 5% of the total prison population in 2016, women accounted for around 21% of all incidents of self-harm behind bars up to June last year.

Additionally 53% of women in prison have experienced emotional, physical or sexual abuse during childhood, while 46% are survivors of domestic abuse.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, one in four women in prisons, forensic secure units and Immigration Removal Centres (IRCs) report "symptoms indicative of psychosis", including voices, visions and other sensory perceptions.

The majority of people with such symptoms find them neutral or even supportive, but for some the experiences can be frightening and distressing.

Dr Rebecca Lockwood, clinical psychologist at HMP Bronzefield in Ashford, said: "Due to recent changes in the prison climate, as a mental health team we have noticed an increase in the number of women struggling with hearing voices and other types of sensory experiences."

Women’s Voices Unlocked, a project launched by Mind in Camden, aims to train staff to provide Hearing Voices support groups where women can put their experiences into words.

Bronzefield Prison next to the A308 in Ashford

Latest research has shown a strong correlation between trauma, such as separation from their families and children, and hearing voices.

Stigma around hearing voices can deepen distress and increase isolation of female prisoners.

"To meet this need the Hearing Voices group was started, and it has been incredibly successful," added Dr Lockwood.

"For one hour a week the women get a chance to put words to their unusual experiences in a safe, supportive environment.

"The women's support for each other continues outside of the group.

A group manager at the women's prison in Ashford said: "The Making Meaning Group is about understanding the voices and the trauma going on in my head, the smells, seeing things, the unusual experiences and my anger.

"Getting an understanding and realising that it is the stress and trauma of my life experiences has been invaluable."

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