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

14th Feb 2019
Prevention resources and tools

This content discusses trauma, depression and anxiety, which some people may find triggering.

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 is a range of powerful emotions that come into 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”.

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.

Drawing of a few people outside a house

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 and Wales over half of prisoners have common mental disorders including depression, post-traumatic 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
Drawing of a person reading a piece of paper

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

Join our movement

As this blog 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.
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Parc Prison Peer-led Self-Management Project Impact Report 2013 - 2016

This self-management programme ran between 2013 to 2016 with courses on mental health for inmates of the UK prison environment for the first time at HM Prison Parc, Bridgend in South Wales.

How to look after your mental health in prison

This guide provides you with tips on how to look after your mental health in prison.

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