Help-seeking for substance use and mental health among justice-involved people in Scottish community contexts: An analysis of social network influence

Lead Research Organisation: University of Stirling
Department Name: Applied Social Science


Context: Justice-involved people (people sentenced for a crime) are much more likely to have substance use (drugs and alcohol) and mental health problems than the general population. Yet, they are less likely to access support. This contributes to poor quality of life, high emergency care use, and, ultimately, elevated rates of substance related deaths and suicide.

Reducing substance related deaths and suicides are Scottish Government priorities. Scotland has among the highest imprisonment and community supervision rates in Western Europe. Focusing on ensuring justice-involved people access effective support will make a valuable contribution to achieving policy objectives.

To design effective solutions, it is vital to understand why justice-involved people do/do not access substance use and/or mental health (SU/MH) services. Current understandings do not fully consider the relational and community influences in context. Consequently, interventions may be under-optimised. Addressing this knowledge gap will bring a new perspective to policy and practice, contributing to shifting focus away from individualised solutions and towards innovative relational and community level approaches.

Social Network Analysis (SNA) is an emerging methodology for studying the relational and community contexts that form individuals' social networks and influence behaviour. It is yet to be fully leveraged with justice-involved people in community contexts. This project applies mixed methods SNA, collecting network data from justice-involved people in Europe for the first known time.

Aim: To identify how social networks influence help-seeking for SU/MH among justice-involved people in two community contexts in Scotland. This knowledge will be used to 1) develop recommendations for contextually-tailored relational and community level policy and practice responses; and 2) to document procedures in using mixed methods SNA with this population.

1. To apply theories of social capital to examine how help-seeking for SU/MH is influenced by attitudes, behaviours and network features among justice-involved people in Scotland.
2. To address substantial gaps in knowledge concerning the influence of social networks, embedded in local contexts, on help-seeking for SU/MH among justice-involved people.
3. To involve stakeholders (end users), people with lived/living experience of justice involvement and those who support them, throughout the research to produce impactful, evidence-informed recommendations for policy and practice that address contextual-tailoring and relational and community level influences.
4. To demonstrate the utility, and provide methodological documentation on procedures, of mixed methods SNA for studying influences on behaviour among justice-involved people in community contexts. This will inform and provide practical guidance for future SNA studies with under-served and under-researched groups.

Applications/benefits: The project will make an important contribution to knowledge, policy and practice in two ESRC priority areas: mental health, and innovation in health and social care. Recommendations can be applied in policy and practice to increase access to SU/MH services among justice-involved people. This benefits the individual by improving wellbeing, and reducing need for emergency care, SU/MH related crime and deaths. It benefits those who care about a justice-involved person, their community, and society, by reducing SU/MH related social and economic costs. The knowledge generated will inform those working with justice-involved people, whilst methodological learning will increase successful SNA research on sensitive topics with under-researched groups. The project is a first step in a body of work focused on improving health and social outcomes for justice-involved people.


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