It is something most children look forward to, but Dr Pamela Jenkins recalls feeling frustrated when her mother read her bedtime stories.

“She would laugh and talk throughout and I’d say, ‘mummy, please read me the story’. I didn’t know any different, but I now realise she was hearing voices,” says the 37-year-old.

Her late mother, Irene, had schizoaffective disorder, a condition that has symptoms of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Dr Jenkins  says it was not until she was 22 that she was told her mother had the condition, by a psychiatrist while acting as her power of attorney.

An anxious child, a counselling session as a teenager led to the realisation it was linked to her mother’s behaviour.

“I realised I was worrying about her all the time and I wasn’t aware of it,” she says.

“My mum had symptoms of mania and she also hallucinated and heard voices. She was in and out of hospital until I was seven and my dad and I lived with my granny.


"Then, when I was 11, my dad died of stomach cancer and I went to live with aunt and uncle and went home to my mum at weekends.

“My aunt and uncle were amazing – they picked up the pieces but I think [going home] was creating a lot of stress for me. I wanted to be there but I was always trying to control her – and stop her talking to herself.”

An estimated 2.9 million young people live with parents who have symptoms of anxiety and depression.

READ MORE: SNP told to improve mental health funding amid 'second class service' warning 

However, according to the charity Our Time, this figure does not account for parents who have other mental illnesses – such as schizophrenia, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorders. 

“So many of those children are also carers," says Dr Jenkins.

Her mother died in February, aged 74,  after contracting Covid in hospital while being treated for something else.

“She was a wonderful woman and we had a very close bond. She was the kindest person you could ever hope to meet. She could be volatile, but never around me. I have always felt love in my life and I know it’s not the same for all children.

“So often, people with mental illness, they lose an element of their identity, they become defined by their illness. My mum was never able to work – it was hard for her.”

Dr Jenkins says conversations and awareness of mental health have improved significantly but “there is a long way to go” in terms of talking about the more severe and complex disorders.


“The solution has been to step away from the language of mental illness, rather than focus on how can we better talk about it so that people understand it more.” says Dr Jenkins, who is a senior research officer  at the Mental Health Foundation and lives in Biggar in South Lanarkshire with her husband Nick and two sons, aged eight and six.

She spoke to celebrities with experience of parental mental illness for a new podcast, titled My Family, Mental Illness… And Me. 

READ MORE: Detentions for mental health treatment double in Scotland 

Fitness coach Joe Wicks recalls his mother cleaning their house obsessively, not realising she was ill with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

His father was a heroin addict and the coach describes how exercise provided an outlet for his fears and frustrations.


One of the areas that must improve, says Dr Jenkins, is support for children affected by parental mental illness.

“I realised there was nothing – there was no services for children... certainly nothing when I was growing up and nobody really speaking about it.

“We never had those conversations about how to deal with mental illness.”

“The charity that funded the podcast, Our Time, provides workshops that are for families and children. It is piloting one in Dundee, which is great but what we would like to see is more provision.”

A new Netflix drama starring Andie MacDowell and her daughter Margaret Qualley shines a light on parental mental illness. 

READ MORE: Risk of mental health disorders continues long after child abuse ends, study shows 

Inspired by Stephanie Land’s memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay And A Mother’s Will To Survive, it tells the story of 23-year-old Alex (Margaret Qualley) who leaves an abusive relationship with her two-year-old daughter Maddy.


MacDowell plays Alex’ mother, who has bipolar disorder, and the actress revealed her own mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia soon after she was born.

“The podcast is not about blaming the parent, all it’s saying is there is a population of children here who feel guilt and shame and they carry that with them and we need to 
have that conversation to lessen that burden,” says Dr Jenkins.

“Even if you are not delivering care to a parent, the point at which a child is worrying about a parent, they are taking on a maturity and a responsibility they would not necessarily have.”

My Family, Mental Illness… And Me is available on all podcast platforms 
and at