Most incarcerated women in the United States are mothers who report high rates of mental health issues and traumatic experiences, yet their needs are often overlooked because they comprise a smaller proportion of the incarcerated population compared with men.
This integrative review aimed to synthesize the literature on the mental health, mental health treatment, and traumatic experiences of currently and formerly incarcerated mothers.
We searched PsychINFO, CINAHL, and Criminal Justice Abstracts for all research articles that were written in English; included adult mothers who were incarcerated or incarcerated and released; and contained findings related to mental health, mental health treatment, or traumatic experiences.
Thirty-four articles met the inclusion criteria. Mothers had high rates of moderate-to-severe mental health problems and high childhood and adult trauma rates, especially intimate partner violence. Mothers faced barriers to treatment yet showed psychological resilience and active coping skills.
Nurses can recognize risk factors for women's incarceration and assess mental health symptoms and trauma, especially interpersonal violence. Nurses can use assessment findings to refer mothers to treatment and community resources and support their reuniting with their children. Nurses can also provide trauma-informed care and education about mental health topics and advocate for mental health treatment prerelease and postrelease. Staff education and organizational interventions to reduce burnout may remove additional barriers to care.