Mental distress and the criminal justice system: Supporting people living with suicidal thoughts

In June 2019 we launched a new video series where people who have used or volunteered with our services shared their experiences of the criminal justice system when living with mental distress. The service users that are featured in the videos were involved in all stages of the production of the series. The main film from the project was premiered at an event at Rich Mix in Shoreditch in London and people who starred in the videos hosted and delivered presentations during the event, and were heavily involved in planning the day.

When we worked alongside service users to produce our Mental Distress and the Criminal Justice System video series there were a selection of themes that became apparent in the stories the individual’s told and one of those was around experiencing suicidal thoughts. There are many reasons why someone can experience suicidal thoughts which may be caused by psychological, social and cultural factors, often combined with experiences of trauma and loss. People may experience suicidal thoughts throughout their life as a result of ongoing mental distress or a specific event or experience may become overwhelming. Everyone’s experiences are different and so is the support that they may need to help them with their feelings.

When a person tries to take their own life they can may come into contact with emergency services and with criminal justice agencies such as the police. For #WorldSuicidePreventionDay we wanted to highlight the role that professionals in criminal justice settings can play in helping to keep someone safe who may be experiencing such despair and distress.

Through these films, and the lived experiences of our service users, we wanted to show how criminal justice professionals can have a positive impact in supporting someone in a time of great need. We hope also to show the journeys that people have been on to inspire hope for anyone who may be struggling with their own mental health.

Brandon’s story

In the video below Brandon explains how he came into contact with the criminal justice system and his own experience of living with mental distress and suicidal thoughts. He explains how an intervention from a police officer was crucial to him being able to access support that would allow him to take a leading role in planning his own recovery. Brandon also explains how he sought out the police officer who helped him specifically to thank him and how he is now looking to plan a career as a peer supporter to help others experiencing mental distress with his own experiences.

Olly’s story

Olly shares his own experience of mental distress and trying to take his own life and the differences in the help he has received from emergency services. He makes clear the importance for people to be treated with dignity and respect and ‘like human beings’ and explains how he doesn’t feel like this has always been the case. As can happen when people experience suicidal thoughts Olly had come in to contact with the criminal justice system on more than one occasion and he feels that had changed the way he was perceived by police officers. He also describes the process of being locked in a cell and how that can be a traumatic experience for someone living with mental distress. Olly is now supported by Together’s York Pathways service. We hope that by sharing his story we can show how improvements can be made to the way the criminal justice system supports people and the positive experiences he had with ambulance service and British Transport Police.

Ange’s story

Clinical settings can be scary and intimidating places for people living with mental distress and Ange describes in her video the negative experiences she had of telling a mental health team about having suicidal thoughts. She hopes that professionals will learn from her story and understand the traumatising impact that contact with mental health services can have on people. By contrast she describes how the police dealt with her in a fair way when she came into contact with them. Ange goes on to explain how she is looking to take control of her own recovery working with  Together’s York Pathways service but understands that it won’t happen overnight. She also describes how writing helps a lot to express what she feels she can’t say and that she uses a ‘happy memories box’ to help her through the down days.

To watch our full video on Mental Distress and Criminal Justice and for more on the process of making it go to

Our Liaison and diversion services are designed to improve the health and justice outcomes for adults and children who come into contact with the youth and criminal justice systems where a range of complex needs are identified as factors in their offending behaviour. Read more about Together’s Liaison and Diversion services.