To be detained is an experience that can be described as highly unusual. This experience usually comes with consequences — both during and after the detention — to the well-being of the person involved. These can be both physical and psychological, affecting both the individual and society. In this article, we want to reflect specifically about the mental health consequences that minors can experience when they are detained and after being released from prison.
Through clinical experience, MSF has found that after being released from detention many minors experience difficulties rejoining school. Many factors are involved: the long period of separation from school and the habit of study; a decreased sense of the value of learning or continuing with it; difficulties in relating to former classmates; challenges in accepting authority figures due to bad experiences with them in prison; or, simply difficulties responding when they might be asked to tell “what happened” when they are still not ready to do that..
We found that many of the minors that are released live with on-going real worries of being detained again. This can result in the following consequences: difficulties to rest well; reduced appetite; increased frequency in smoking; nervousness; feelings of frustration and anger; among other psychological reactions. Unfortunately, these thoughts and reactions, while common, diminish their capacity to positively re-integrate in the society and to move forward in their lives. This is why some of them might require support from a professional..
Ashraf, a 17 years old male from Al Aroub camp, was released from jail after spending one year and a half there. Ashraf suffered from worry and anxiety about how he could continue his life following a long period far away from his previous, normal life and a separation from his friends and school. In fact, he started socializing less and less with his friends in order to avoid talking about the painful experience of arrest. He felt very discouraged after the imprisonment..
He had a sharp pain in his leg while he was in jail, for which he was in need of a surgery. One day, while he was in the hospital for medical examinations after being released, the military staged an incursion on his house, looking for Ashraf. Because he wasn’t there, the soldiers told his father that they would return to arrest him very soon. When Ashraf heard about what had happened he became more anxious, thinking all the time that they would come for him. He was unable to sleep. He became hyper alert, lost his motivation and isolated himself even more from others..
When MSF, started to provide psychological support for him, he was very open to share his worries, realizing that he was overwhelmed by negative thoughts which made him feel stuck. He came to understand that the experience of imprisonment still had an impact on him, even though he had been released.
After few sessions of receiving the support of a mental health professional, together with his own resources, willingness and strength, he started to regain control over his thoughts and became more aware of his negative feelings and how to manage them. He also learnt how to get better quality sleep that ultimately allowed him to overcome his challenges and start doing things he wanted for his future..
The family, especially his mother, expressed that her son improved a lot in sleeping, controlling his emotions and being more motivated, as well as coming back to a normal routine and way of thinking. In fact she was thrilled about the result of the treatment, because she was afraid that her son might never be able to overcome this experience. At the end Ashraf was able to succeed in planning and start taking the necessary steps for his future, he became close again to his friends and family.