How The Archers is showing the impact on the whole family when a loved one goes to prison

This week The Archers listeners witness Elizabeth’s struggles and initial acceptance of her deteriorating mental health, as the impact of her son Freddie’s prison sentence finally overwhelms her.

But for others, what are the implications for the whole family when a loved one goes to prison? How can life carry on as normal? 

There are a range of powerful emotions that come in to play when a loved one goes to prison, including: shame and guilt. 

A grandmother once told me about how her grandson’s incarceration played out in her family. He was visited by his mother and siblings but he couldn't bear for his grandparents to visit him yet. This was even though he knew how she felt: “We all love him, we all nurture and cherish him. What he’s done is not the same as who he is”.  

“We all love him, we all nurture and cherish him. What he’s done is not the same as who he is”.  

This is also the case for how the character Elizabeth feels about her son and his actions, yet recently she couldn’t bring herself to visit him on his birthday. This was a huge red flag that her mental health was deteriorating, but it wasn’t obvious to herself or those close to her.

Physical and practical barriers to visiting someone in prison

It won’t always be appropriate for families to visit. For most families though, there are also the physical barriers to seeing someone who is spending time behind bars. For some, there is the cost and practicalities of visiting people in prison, far away from home. For families on benefits there is assistance that you can find here. It’s incredibly complicated managing long distance visits around increased family responsibilities and work. 

Parents in prison being separated from their children 

Then there is the anguish of parents being separated from their children - as is so powerfully depicted in the film If Beale Street Could Talk. The anger, pain and loss may have inter-generational mental health implications, which are another large cost for society.  

Managing the mental health needs of prisoners

In prisons, there is a huge challenge to managing the mental health needs of prisoners. The Institute of Psychiatry estimates that in England & Wales over half of prisoners have common mental disorders including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder and anxiety. 

Looking after your mental health in prisons for men - upcoming guide

At the Mental Health Foundation, we ran a project in Parc men’s prison in Wales. One of the approaches that we have specialised in is peer support and self-management. This has resulted in us currently co-producing a booklet with prisoners. The booklet will have tips on ways to improve your mental health in prison, including:

  • Try to Keep In Touch.
  • Being able to maintain contact with loved ones both through letters, pictures and visits is so important for good mental health.
  • As is planning to re-enter a family positively, on release. 

“I couldn’t believe how hard it was for my family and all I did was worry about them, being away from them made me sink into a dark place. But they are the ones who made me strong”  

We do hope that Elizabeth soon feels able to visit Freddie soon as personal family contact is crucial for both of their mental health. 

Further information

Join our movement

As Jolie says, we can support prisoners with their mental health through our guides. But we can't do it by ourselves. We need your help to move us forward to enable us to provide more support. Please consider a donation today.

Donate now