Written by guest contributors, Jolyn Armstrong and Jim Armstrong, The FOTA Project
“A suicidal person is someone who is unable to tolerate their suffering any longer. Even if she does not really want to die, she knows death will end that suffering once and for all.”
― Sue Klebold, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy
“Mom, I’ve been arrested. It’s bad…”
The time of greatest suffering in my life was when my son was facing serious criminal charges and an obviously unavoidable prison sentence. The day I got the call I was preparing for a 2-day intensive workshop that my husband and I were hosting in Las Vegas for our business mastermind clients. In just over a week about a dozen people would be expecting me to be on my A-game from breakfast at 7 am through after dinner mingling late into the evening. They didn’t know that my life had just fallen apart. I found myself crying all day – every day – and sleep was simply out of the question. But if my event and my business were going to survive, I’d have to figure out how to calm my mind and find the eye of this storm which had enveloped our lives.
Depression, hypertension, obesity, diabetes – all serious health issues that have been proven to be exacerbated by the mental stress involved with facing serious criminal charges, according to The Essie Justice Group and many other research studies. These risks extend to the families of those facing criminal charges as well, especially mothers who have incarcerated sons, and children of incarcerated parents. Beyond these health risks, the risk of suicide among those facing serious criminal charges is greatly increased compared to the general population.
In fact, one of the most highly impacted groups is male child sex offenders. The suicide rate of male child sex offenders who engaged exclusively in sex (with no additional violent acts), is reported to be 183 times higher than that of members of the general population (1). This high suicide rate has been noted in the blog, “Sex Offender Suicides and Other Deaths”, where the deaths have been considered “unintentional burdens of punishment” (2).
The truth is, our bodies are built to deal with stress. The existence of the fight or flight response means that we are equipped to handle even extreme stress – but we’re built to handle stress in short, immediate bursts. Butterflies experienced before going onstage to speak in front of a crowd which are immediately replaced with a feeling of overall elation and enjoyment as soon as the speech is over is a great example of this. An adrenalin rush the second before a fender-bender, followed by overwhelming relief once you realize nobody was hurt is another example.
However, the dangers of allowing our bodies to stay in a constant or prolonged state of heightened stress are significant. Chronic stress, or constant stress experienced over a prolonged period of time, can contribute to long-term problems for heart and blood vessels. The consistent and ongoing increase in heart rate, and the elevated levels of stress hormones and of blood pressure, can take a toll on the body. Countless studies have been completed proving that improving mental health has a direct correlation to physical health. In an article from Pharmaceutical Technology, (3) several studies are quoted showing a direct correlation between mental health and skin conditions.
Here are some sobering findings from the Essie Justice Group regarding women who are supporting a son facing criminal charges &/or incarceration.
- 86% reported that their mental health had been significantly or extremely affected
- 63% of women reported that their physical health had been significantly or extremely affected by a loved one’s incarceration
Not guarding your mental health during one of the most stressful times of your life may cause serious physical health damage, leading to reduced ability to work and support a family both financially and emotionally. Fear of the loss you’re facing due to the criminal charges of a loved one contributes greatly to the “normal,” day-to-day stress you encounter. But ultimately, the loss you may experience due to not managing your stress level far outweighs anything the legal system can take from you. One of the biggest fears a family member faces, when a loved one is charged with a serious crime, is the fear that their loved one will commit suicide.
Most attorneys are simply not equipped to support both your legal defense and guard your mental health. Because of this, many attorneys don’t even know how to broach the subject with you. This is not because they’re inept, or uncaring. It’s because their expertise is the law. If you happen to be lucky enough to be working with an attorney who provides resources to support your mental health, listen to the advice they have to offer. I couldn’t have made it through my experience facing a loved one’s criminal charges without support. It was the most isolating, stressful time of my life. I needed support, and I’m lucky to have understood early on that I didn’t have to face it alone. Nobody else should have to feel alone either. Seek additional counseling and support. There is no shame in relying on support during this very stressful time in your life. In fact, seeking help demonstrates courage on your part.
If you have a loved one facing criminal charges, or who is in prison, and you’re not sure where to turn for support, we’re here for you. The FOTA Project’s mission is to provide ongoing counseling, support, and community for families of the accused. Please reach out, we’d love to speak with you.
Jolyn and Jim Armstrong are the husband-and-wife co-founders of The FOTA Project (Families Of The Accused). When a loved one of Jolyn and Jim’s was arrested, they discovered that there are few support resources for the traumatized families of people accused of a crime. That’s why they launched The FOTA Project. FOTA’s mission is to provide emotional counseling, support, and guidance for the families of people who have been accused of a crime or who are incarcerated. For more information visit theFOTAproject.org.
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