Fairfield University's School of Nursing receives grant from the Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Foundation to study impact of prison on individuals with schizophrenia


Fairfield University's School of Nursing has received a grant from the Daphne Seybolt Culpeper Foundation to support a study of the impact of incarceration on individuals with schizophrenia. The hope is that the information gained from the study will help Fairfield's nursing students better understand this often misunderstood patient population and how to care for them. The project also will expand and enhance the undergraduate mental health nursing curriculum at Fairfield.

More than two million American adults have schizophrenia, a disorder identified by the World Health Organization as one of the ten most debilitating diseases. Data indicates that prevalence rates of schizophrenia and mood disorders were three to six times greater among the inmate population than the general community; more recent estimates of the numbers of inmates with severe mental illness vary from 13 to 19%. The majority of these individuals - about 70% - have been jailed for non-violent offenses.

Joyce Shea, DNSc, APRN, assistant professor and undergraduate program director at the School of Nursing, received full funding for this curriculum development project that will include field research in the amount of $14,712 from the Culpeper Foundation. Two undergraduate students will work as research assistants on the study, and will help process information from Dr. Shea's interviews with incarcerated schizophrenics. She said an understanding of the incarceration experience from the perspective of individuals themselves will better inform the development of cutting-edge curriculum and methods in the undergraduate mental health nursing course, and, ultimately, it also will improve the provision of quality health care to this marginalized group of people.

Dr. Shea said, "The results will inform the development of scenarios and course content that will better prepare our students to meet the needs of vulnerable populations such as those with schizophrenia. I hope that this work will have an impact on the attitudes of nursing students toward those with severe mental illness in general."

Individuals with schizophrenia require ten times the amount of mental health services used by those with depression. These individuals also have increased physical health risks, increased mortality rates, and a nearly 20% lifespan reduction. Further compounding these vulnerabilities has been the practice described as the "criminalization" of mental illness and the increasing numbers of mentally ill persons in jail or prison.

Jeanne Novotny, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing, said the mission of Fairfield University - to prepare men and women for others - is reflected in this endeavor. "At the heart of the research project is the goal of educating nursing students in the care of a very vulnerable group of patients. Individuals with schizophrenia are considered vulnerable first by virtue of their diagnosis; those that end up incarcerated face even more risks to their health and well-being."

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on July 7, 2009

Vol. 42, No. 3

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