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Salud mental

versión impresa ISSN 0185-3325


ROMERO MENDOZA, Martha et al. Gender inequities, substance abuse and treatment barriers in women in prison. Salud Ment [online]. 2010, vol.33, n.6, pp.499-506. ISSN 0185-3325.

The vast majority of women in Mexican prisons have several mental health disorders and addictions, as well as problems obtaining access to treatment for this type of problems. These women's personal background and prison conditions reflect the unresolved problems of the country, such as education and illiteracy, access to health and housing and inequity in the justice systems. The literature has shown that substance abuse affects female prisoners to a greater extent than other women, and that their disadvantaged socio-economic status makes them more likely to engage in and continue substance abuse. Other aspects that exacerbate this vulnerability are their low educational attainment, lack of job skills, and exposure to stigmatization and discrimination in addition to the physical and psychological consequences of addictive behavior. One aspect that has been internationally acknowledged is that gender inequities make women's health more vulnerable, particularly that of female prisoners, since they have greater health deficits and more treatment barriers. International literature has shown that female users of psychoactive substances in general face more barriers than men in seeking or continuing treatment. Research has also shown that the most common personal barriers in women are denial, shame and guilt. Likewise, women's anxiety and depressive disorders tend to be more prevalent and severe, which in turn prevents them from seeking help when they have substance abuse problems. The most common family-related barriers are the difficulty of attending treatment due to family, partner or childcare obligations, pregnancy or fear of losing custody of their children. The main barriers faced by women regarding treatment institutions are the insensitivity or inadequate training of the staff that work there, prejudice and negative attitudes towards women, lack of information on available treatment and extremely long waiting lists. As a result of the above, the aim of this study is to document the barriers to the treatment of addictions of female prisoners, a disadvantaged group that has rarely been studied in Mexico, in order to understand certain aspects related to this population's access to treatment and continuation of the latter. The design used for this research is an ex post facto, descriptive, non-experimental, cross-sectional field study. The sample consisted of 213 women, chosen for convenience, who met the following criteria: alcohol and drug users, ages 18 to 65, able to read and write and with no psychiatric disorders or handicaps that would prevent the interview. The women that participated in this study were drawn from two Mexico City prisons: the Centro Preventivo Femenil Oriente, which houses women that have been accused, tried and sentenced, and the Centro de Readaptación Social Femenil Tepepan, where the inmates are women who have been sentenced and also have psychiatric problems. The ethical care observed included informing the interviewees of the objectives of the study, voluntary participation, confidential handling of the information and the use of witnesses, as well as guaranteeing participants the right to abandon the study and not to answer questions they found uncomfortable. The instrument was designed as a semi-structured interview with 242 questions covering various areas including Allen's Questionnaire on Treatment Barriers. It can be self-administered by the respondents, has internal consistency, construct and content validity and was adapted by Romero (2002). Some of the respondents had to have the questionnaire read out to them because of their low educational attainment. This questionnaire consists of 41 items, 30 of which are divided into three categories: 1. characteristics of treatment services, 2. beliefs, feelings or thoughts, and 3. socio-environmental aspects. Each category also includes an open question to discover other types of barriers not included in the three categories. The results yielded the following socio-demographic profile of the interviewees: 45.5% were in the 28 to 40 year age group; and had had 6 or less years' education (41.3%) or completed junior high school (36.2%). The majority were single (48.6%) or common law (21.6%), while 50.7% had children under the age of 18. Certain other characteristics of this sample such as depression, violence and alcohol and drug use have been reported in other studies. Of the total group of women that had received treatment at some time in their lives, 52.6% (n = 112) mentioned some type of barrier to treatment for addictions. A total of 29.1% (n = 62) of these women mentioned some type of barrier to treatment for alcohol use, while 44.1 % (n = 94) cited some type of barrier to treatment for drug use. Lastly, 39.2% (n = 44) mentioned some type of barrier to treatment for both types of consumption. An analysis of the treatment sub-scale by socio-demographic variable showed greater difficulty in obtaining treatment among women ages 28 to 40 and among those with children under 18. Statistically significant differences were observed regarding the type of offense (robbery) and availability of treatment. As for the beliefs, feelings and thoughts sub-scale, statistically significant differences were found among women with children under 18 and those finding it hard to abandon consumption. The sub-scale related to situational aspects, such as rejection from friends, proved to be the main barrier to enter treatment and was statistically significant among single women. The results of this study pose challenges to the health and mental health service sector regarding the timely treatment and rehabilitation of marginalized women. Likewise, acknowledging gender inequities is crucial when it comes to designing health promotion strategies. Without this perspective, their effectiveness could be jeopardized and gender inequalities actually exacerbated.

Palabras llave : Gender inequity; substance abuse; treatment barriers; women; prison.

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