Neil Coyle has served as the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark in central London since 2015. His mum has schizophrenia, and her illness has played a big role in shaping his life.
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Dr Pamela Jenkins: This is My Family, Mental Illness... and Me.
My name is Pamela Jenkins and I’m a researcher at the Mental Health Foundation. My mum, Irene, lived with a mental illness. There were voices only she could hear and she could quickly switch from feeling very high to very low. No one ever talked about it with me when I was young, even though I knew my mum was often unwell. When I was in my 20s, that’s when a psychiatrist told me that my mum had schizoaffective disorder. Sadly, I lost her quite recently to Covid-19 but even though she’s gone, her mental health will always be a huge part of my life.
In each of these podcasts, I’ll speak to someone else whose parent has or had a mental illness. In the UK, there are at least three million children of parents with mental illness. If you’re one, it’s really important that you know you’re not alone.
My Family, Mental Illness... and Me is a podcast series from the charity Our Time with support from the Mental Health Foundation. Our Time champions and supports children of parents with mental illness and their families. We’ve put links to more information in the show notes.
This time, I’m chatting with someone whose experience, as the child of a parent with mental illness, has been part of his journey to becoming an MP.
Neil Coyle MP: Hello, my name is Neil Coyle. I’m the Labour MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark in Central London.
It’s good to be here and I think it’s important to talk about this so that, in particular, children who are growing up in similar circumstances today don’t go through some of the experiences that I and others had, in a very different environment, as children ourselves.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: What age were you when you knew that your mum was mentally ill?
Neil Coyle MP: I don’t remember Mum not having schizophrenia but she developed schizophrenia and obviously, how the onset of schizophrenia occurs is still unclear. Mum and Dad married when Mum was well. Mum was a primary school teacher and ran a drop-in nursery for children. She was active in the local church and other organisations but whatever led to it, my earliest memories of Mum was that she was already confused and unwell and not getting treatment. That caused the relationship breakdown and lots of confusing experiences as a very young child and being kept out of school because Mum was convinced I was ill a lot. There were four children and this wasn’t the same experience for my brothers and sister. Mum set fire to a carpet in the living room. There was no intent to harm anyone. It was purely to keep warm. Either she had no money and couldn’t work the meter, as it was literally a coin meter back then, or was confused and unwell and didn’t know how to operate it. So there are lots of different confusing memories and then I’m aware that Mum went into hospital for quite some time and that was when the diagnosis came through. It’s been part of my life. There has never been a time when I remember Mum not being unwell, frankly, or having schizophrenia. There were long periods where she’s had schizophrenia and there’s been no massive impact.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: You said that it wasn’t the same for your siblings.
Neil Coyle MP: Just in terms of being kept out of school.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: So you were the only one kept out?
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, for whatever reason. Part of Mum’s condition has meant she has fixated on certain things over her lifetime and my lifetime. I was convinced, until a couple of years ago [laughter], that when I was born I was on an incubator for some time due to a lung issue which Dad informed me was complete rubbish [laughter] and untrue.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Oh really? [Laughter].
Neil Coyle MP: But because Mum had told me that many, many years, I just assumed it was a given. Perhaps Mum did think there was something wrong with me when I was first born and that became... ‘Oh, you can’t go to school. You’re not well,’ which, when you see your siblings going off to school, was confusing. I think it was confusing for them as well, to be fair. We were all aware that Mum was unwell. There was no doubt to us and, of course, it meant people who had been friends of the family were a little wary of Mum suddenly being different, and confusing, and confused herself.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: So when you say you were kept off school, for example, did you know that that was because your mum was mentally ill? Did they talk to you about it?
Neil Coyle MP: No, and this is the thing. As children, you put up with it. You’re socialised and your circumstances are what you consider to be normal. Whatever I would do at home was the normal stuff and Mum’s behaviour and Mum’s pattern was just Mum. Children put up with a lot with parents… with or without a health condition [laughter]. You get used to whatever you’re parents do. Of course, once Mum and Dad’s relationship broke down because of the circumstances, he wasn’t on the scene for quite an important period where Mum was not receiving the support she needed and that’s when social services and others became involved but they were not massively helpful. This was the 80s and their priority was to try and separate me and my siblings and put us into formal care services which I’m afraid, back then - and there’s a lot of work that still needs to be done today and let’s beat about the bush – would have meant I would probably more likely have gone to prison than gone to university certainly. Why that was their priority… we weren’t really aware at the time but it went to Family Law Court and Dad had to fight for custody. Mum’s mum, who was also adjusting to these dramatically changed circumstances and was a magistrate herself, came and spoke on Dad’s behalf. I believe it was her intervention that helped keep my brothers and sister and myself together in Dad’s care and meant we still saw Mum which Nan was absolutely brilliant at, however ill or whatever the circumstances were.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: How old were you at that time?
Neil Coyle MP: I think I was about five or six. I’m unsure. I can’t remember but…
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, it’s okay.
Neil Coyle MP: Sorry, I should have prepared better for this.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: No, it’s okay.
Neil Coyle MP: It was very, very difficult on her as well… but Nan became an absolute… she was resolute. She supported both Mum and us… and Dad throughout all of it.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Did anyone talk to you about what was going on or was it sort of happening around you and to you? Were there open conversations around your mum’s mental illness?
Neil Coyle MP: To some degree, I would say there was an element of protection from not saying that Mum had a condition but there were also mistakes. [Laughter] I had a teacher at school who insisted on inviting both parents to events and Dad’s work meant he could never go. Mum got an invite and decided she would turn up to something [laughter] when she wasn’t well and it was awkward. One of my best friend’s mum sat with my mum to make sure that if anything happened, it could be explained and that did help but it was quite stressful actually. It was a little nerve-wracking. Of course, I think we’re more relaxed about talking about conditions but certainly back then, there was less awareness and it was less comfortable to talk about, in part because of stigma and in part because people just don’t understand and those things go hand in hand. Still today actually, the understanding of schizophrenia is poor and most people think it is a mixed personality disorder or a multiple personality disorder and that kind of approach. In fact, I think I actually raised it in discussion with someone at school about Mum’s condition and, as a joke, they said, ‘Does that mean you’ve got two mums?’ You know, kids do make jokes about all kinds of things they don’t understand. It was upsetting at the time, to be honest, and there may have been a scuffle [laughter]. I certainly didn’t bear grudges but it was unfamiliar to them and, as I say, kids can be very unfair but not because it’s a deliberate intention to upset someone.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: But the reality of the home life for you was there and so that’s very raw when somebody does something like that.
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, and, of course, just as someone might have a misunderstanding of schizophrenia, to me, Mum’s condition was what it was and she had never had mixed personalities. For me, I didn’t understand why that was people’s go-to at the time. I didn’t get why that was what they thought schizophrenia was because we’d seen it and others hadn’t.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: I’m not entirely convinced that people’s perceptions are so far removed from that now because schizophrenia is so misrepresented in the media.
Neil Coyle MP: Almost always and especially when it comes to characters in different TV shows and it’s still considered something a little dangerous when actually, our experiences of Mum is that she’s become the target of violence and other problems as a result of her illness. She’s never been violent to anyone and yet because she’s either talking to herself or quite often, just laughing to herself because of what she can hear, that is very real and relevant to her but is not something anyone else can understand. So she would laugh out in the public and that would draw attention to her from people whose motives are horrific.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: In your circumstances and actually, in my own circumstances, we were lucky enough to have additional family who could step in. I think it’s only now, as an adult, I’m realising how fortunate it was to be in that position. My mum had schizoaffective disorder, so schizophrenia and bipolar. The voices, the talking and being out and people not understanding what was going on was very challenging as a child. It’s interesting what you were saying before about going to school and feeling like you needed to explain. It’s a very big responsibility for a child to take on and that shouldn’t have to happen.
Neil Coyle MP: No, and…
Dr Pamela Jenkins: You shouldn’t be in that position.
Neil Coyle MP: …even with other family members. Mum’s mum was an absolute rock and very supportive. She would drive over and drive us to Mum’s routinely to make sure we were seeing her and she was seeing us. She knew that we were part of her life but other members of the family were understanding. It was all new, and different, and strange and, of course, lots of family only got snippets. Dad’s mum once refused to let Mum take me and one of my brothers to London for an open-top bus tour. Dad’s mum thought that was too much and the risks were too high and we’d got lost, separated or whatever simply because of Mum’s condition. I doubt anything would have happened. In fact, Mum has travelled on her own to all kinds of different places for many, many years. It’s only since she’s got a bit older and a bit more frail that that’s been off the cards.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: That’s an autonomy issue as well and already, I think that when you have a mental illness, in so many ways, your autonomy and independence are compromised. That’s what I have seen anyway or I saw with my mum and you don’t have a say over certain things. In fact, you’re not included nearly as much as you should be in decisions that are being made for you and about you. When it comes to then having a child… and I know certainly, my mum felt… she knew that it was the best thing for me not to stay with her after my dad died and even though she was part of that decision, there were times when I knew she felt like I had been taken away from her. So that autonomy and her identity as a parent were compromised. As a child, witnessing that, and being part of that, and seeing that… even if you’re not fully understanding necessarily what’s going on, it really lives with you and stays with you.
Neil Coyle MP: How old were you at the time?
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Well, my mum had mental illness since before I was born. My dad died when I had just turned 11 and so I went to stay with my aunt and uncle when I was 10, my dad’s sister and her family. It was absolutely the best decision. They made entirely the best decision and it was made as a family but my mum really was the one that suffered from that decision and long-term, it really impacted on her mental health I think because she became more and more isolated. I feel like it really contributed to her cognitive decline actually in the end, as well as her mental illness. It’s just hard. If there were more things in place for my mum and more things in place for me as a child, maybe it would have been different but everybody did their best. The family all did their best. It would be great if there was more support for kids and also support that encouraged children, who might not otherwise do so, to disclose about their parent’s mental illness or about their circumstances because I think that that embarrassment is a real thing. When you’re a child, you can end up just leading two different lives. That’s something that’s come up quite a lot.
I remember [laughter] going on holiday with my mum and I must have been about 13 or 14. We just went, the two of us, together and… you know when you used to go to either a caravan park or wherever you went on holiday with your family, like a resort and you would make pals with other kids who were there. Sometimes, the parents would chat and whatnot. I was always so worried about leaving my mum on her own. I just worried about her all the time and part of that was worrying that she would be being embarrassing because she’d be talking to herself. I was always trying to control that said, ‘Stop talking to yourself.’ I met this little pal when we were on holiday. We were in Spain actually, which was odd because it was the first time I’d ever gone on an aeroplane. We’re from the East End of Glasgow and, at that time, the idea of going to a resort in Spain was really strange. Anyway, it was very nice. I met this friend and I was really keen for my mum to be friends with the parents of this person who I’d met because then she wouldn’t be on her own. So I orchestrated it so that, of an evening, she was sitting next to those parents. I went away with my friend and when I turned back, I saw the parents look at each other and give each other an expression, like, ‘Oh jeez! Oh no, this woman is coming to sit with us,’ because she would be talking to herself. It was heartbreaking and so much of that situation was stigma and other people’s misunderstanding. Being a child of a parent with a mental illness, especially one that’s very obvious, can be very, very, very difficult.
Neil Coyle MP: As children, you want everyone to be happy, friends and family. Some people talk about this in terms of wanting to fix something. I think it’s much more simple than that. You want everyone to be happy. You know when the wind picks up and you’d hear it through the overflow hole?
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah.
Neil Coyle MP: In Mum’s flat in the high rise, it was quite loud and so when I heard that at home if I was in the bath or whatever, it would make me think of Mum and think that she was lonely.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Aww. It’s interesting to me…
Neil Coyle MP: As a child, you don’t want… your family members to be unhappy but she had an amazing partner for many, many years called Rob, who was from Glasgow as well, funnily enough. They were together for a long time and Rob was a character in his own right. It was great that she had company. They would go down the ‘pearly tavern’ [laughter] and they would dance in the pub on an afternoon together, even though most other people didn’t dance in the pub. They were happy and they had each other but he died quite suddenly and it was very difficult after that and after such a long time together and having that company and living together.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and that’s a trauma as well. Interesting. Just to go back to what you said about the wind. If you can believe it, I share not the exact thing that’s a memory about the wind but mum’s council house was one of four in a block which they got in the 80s when the council sold off houses cheap. They got one of those and the wind would whistle through the windows of the council house. I’ll spare you me trying to do an impression of the wind [laughter] but it would blow through and every now and again, I’ll be somewhere where I will hear that similar noise and it just makes me think of my mum in that house.
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, that noise always made me think of that particular flat and Mum being on her own and, as I say, you don’t want anyone to be unhappy.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: No, and even as adults, you and your siblings are taking on that responsibility that you’ve had, in one way or another, on some level since you were children.
Neil Coyle MP: Even at discharge from hospital and other points, it’s so problematic and the social services there have been a massive headache. Alex, my sister, has taken on most of this and has been brilliant but the headache she’s had… [laughter] she phoned social services, as an adult child of someone with a mental health condition, to say, ‘Mum’s in hospital with a broken leg. How will you work things out when she’s ready to come out?’ About two days later of checking in and checking out, she said, ‘What’s going on? Have you sorted everything out yet? The hospital is saying she’s ready to come out as soon as you are. I’ll wait to talk someone.’ When they came on the phone [laughter], the social worker or probably an administrator, to be fair – I don’t know – just said, ‘Yeah, you’re mum’s in hospital.’ Alex just exploded and said, ‘We know that bit! We’re waiting for you to sort the bit that is actually your job which is about what she’s going to need, especially given the metal rod in her leg. It’s an extreme change as she’s much less physically mobile.’ There was just nothing and it was extraordinary. Obviously, councils have been under the cosh for a decade and this was exactly part of the problem in the 80s which has come back. We’ve got councils who try and screen and there are councils that far too routinely make massive assumptions about what the rest of the family can do, bearing in mind that none of us live near. I’m probably the nearest in London. Alex, my sister, is in Kent and one of my brothers lives in China and one is in Newcastle. We’re not on the doorstep but there’s a massive assumption by services about what family members can do and actually, in the census, when you see the figures about the number of children supporting family members with all kinds of different health conditions (but mental health conditions are in there)… the idea that children should be providing that and not be focused on their own socialisation, playing and learning. We, as a society, should be equipping them for the future and giving them the means to best allow them to participate to the best of their ability now and as they grow up. We want active citizens and we want people to be able to contribute. If you look at the figures, because of poor mental health services, poor social services, cuts to council services generally and the squeeze on the NHS, we’re still obliging children to take on a huge amount of the informal care responsibility which children are not equipped to do and that’s worrying.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and I think a lot of children of parents with mental illness are not recognised as in that group and so often, they slip through the cracks because they’re not recognised as carers. Would you classify yourself, when you were a child, as a carer?
Neil Coyle MP: I didn’t live with Mum for a lot of it, so no. I wouldn’t have; albeit, there were times, even as a teenager, I was intervening with mental health services trying to get help out to Mum. There were points definitely where, as children, we were trying to engage with services. I think my older brother, who was living with Mum, took on much more of that, like the direct day-by-day stuff and management stuff but in terms of trying to make sure finances were smooth and benefits were sorted, there was little support for all of that.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Did you worry about your mum a lot when you were young?
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, worry, definitely. As I say, even worrying about her being lonely was part of that but to know that she’d come to physical harm as a result of being… and Mum’s quite small and so to know that she’d been targetted and attacked… and targetted for a financial rip-off as well and people who would come to the door to loan money at extortionate rates…
Dr Pamela Jenkins: She was very vulnerable.
Neil Coyle MP: …was definitely worrying. There has always been the hope that medication would work or Mum would be able to better participate in a way that made her less strange to other people. To be frank, there were times when she certainly seemed happy when unwell. It would have been good if there had been more support and better treatment for Mum. Obviously, Mum would have been happy and better if she had been able to participate in a different way but that’s not the circumstances.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: I know.
Neil Coyle MP: You can only play the cards you’re dealt. As I say, children get on with the lives they have and it’s up to us, as a society, to try and build the apparatus to give them the best chance and make sure that there are means of supporting those who need it. There are far too many children still in circumstances too alike to mine and it sounds like yours.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, I mean so much of what you’re saying resonates, like worrying about my mum being lonely and how vulnerable she was when she was at home. People would take advantage all the time. There was the isolation and just that knowledge that she wasn’t participating in society. She never did have a job and the medication, as you’ve said, was not great and the side effects were terrible. I asked you about whether or not you felt you were a carer because… even though you didn’t live with your mum or necessarily directly provided that care for her, I think there is a body of thought that says a child is a carer for a parent at the point at which they’re worrying about them to such an extent that it’s impacting on their life. I don’t think I was ever not thinking about my mum, even when I wasn’t thinking about her. It was all the time. It was constant. I loved her just beyond anything and I just had so much love for her and so much concern. It was all-consuming and so, as a child, that’s really hard I think. There are so many children in that position and they don’t understand what’s going on. In their own minds, they’re probably not even recognising it and they need support.
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, and children are very accepting of the circumstances they’re in and not necessarily realise what is different, wrong or troubling. As much as there’s a bit more awareness and less stigma, I still don’t think we’re equipping children to talk about the impact as well and you’ve touched on this about the longer-term impact on the children themselves which can be hugely difficult. I’m very lucky to serve such an amazing community here in Central London but I’m acutely aware that my life chances could have been very, very different given the circumstances I grew up in. There have been points where I’ve sought counselling and other support because it does have an impact. I can remember getting to university and one of my aunts was saying, ‘It’s amazing you’re not on drugs or in prison.’ [Laughter]
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Oh my word! [Laughter]
Neil Coyle MP: It’s strange to think that simply because of Mum’s health condition that others then thought our life chances and our expectations should be lower, or were lower, or would just be lower as a result. Looking back, that’s extraordinary and not something that anyone should conclude and the decisions about best interests for individual families needs to be really long-term because services are still, to this day, too late at intervening. It’s at crisis points that decisions are taken and so emergency circumstances lead to emergency measures and actually, if there is a more low-level intervention type approach, it would save a fortune for services, including the NHS, but broader services as well as lead to better outcomes for children and their prospects for the future.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: There are so many points at which you could have these conversations with children that would then… as well as services but even just having conversations. I don’t know how you feel about this in terms of your own mental health but it definitely then lives with you and I certainly have residual feelings of guilt and shame. If it had been more openly talked about, it might change the outcomes later on for the wellbeing of that child and the points at which you could do that… people were coming in. There were GPs, there were social workers, there were psychiatrists, there were home helps and teachers.
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, and I think those points and those conversations really fail to pick up on basics. I’ve spoken about this previously but just asking children, ‘How is your mum?’ (or whoever it might be in the family) might have brought out more support. Partly because services, in some circumstances, were so awful, she was reticent to engage with services and so she avoided them like the plague and that meant things were hidden. Her relationship with services was, ‘I don’t want them anywhere near me because of the experiences I’ve had and the terrible medication.’ There was also the inpatient treatment where Mum did come out with bruises and things. To see the coercion in treatment figures rocketing up again in the last few years is really scary for what that means for individuals involved and children growing up who see parents come out physically worse than when they went in.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely.
Neil Coyle MP: But just asking children, ‘How is your mum?’ might have brought out from us, ‘Well, look in the fridge. The milk has been off for a week.’ She was clearly not managing food and drink and the consequences of that were an indication that her health was worse than was necessarily being presented.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, not coping and the non-compliance with medication and the suspicion of services, I can completely relate to that. My mum was the same. Actually, it was only after she died that I really realised the extent of it because all of the Compulsory Treatment Orders that she was under… gosh, she was under those for 15 years nearly and all of those Compulsory Treatment Orders were detailing not being allowed in the house. In so many ways, I just feel like I should have done more but then, as a child, what can you do or even as an adult child? There’s only really so much you can do without being in the position of being a carer.
Neil Coyle MP: As an adult, there are points of conflict. You may think a course of action will deliver better results and faster that other family members, Mum or others, don’t think is the most appropriate. Really, we shouldn’t be put in that position and certainly not as children. Yeah, Mum’s has also been periodical and I do think that having had five children and not regularly seeing them, especially my half-brother, has caused problems around birthdays and Christmas. That’s when I guess there has been a question mark and her thinking, ‘What’s the point? If I take this and I still don’t have my life back and yet I have all the consequences and side effects of the medication…’ Of course, with schizophrenia, I think the employment rate is still something like 5%. Of course, Mum never went back to the job she was doing. She was a supply teacher for some time but that fell through as she tended to be called when she was unwell. She was a cleaner in a Macdonald’s and she’d do all kinds of other jobs to try and just stay active. She went from being married with four children and an active and positive participant to having a condition that lots of people are suspicious and fearful about which led to lots of confusion and a very different life.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: It is very different.
Neil Coyle MP: There is much, much more to do and I know the government promised a mental health bill back when they were elected and they’ve said that it’s imminent. My understanding is it’s still coming by the end of this year and so I hope we will see a dramatic change in terms of the support available to whole families and the intervention points.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Yeah, and have the children mentioned. That would be nice to have recognition of the children themselves.
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, and, of course, there is a balance in the sensitivities around final say but best interests should be the determining factor. Part of my personal experience growing up with Mum meant that when I went to work… I’m the kind of person, like most people, that prefers to work in something that has a personal connection or interest. I started working at Disability Rights Commission and got involved in their policies and other teams and helped work on the Mental Capacity Act which has best interest clauses. A lot of the aims and direction of the Mental Capacity Act legislation is going to be used, we’re told by the Department of Health, to shape the direction of mental health reform which is overdue. I hope to be part of that in parliament and I’ll certainly be taking my personal experiences and my constituents’ experiences through my casework, the organisations and both children and adults I work with here in Southwark.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Because lived experience is so important for these things, isn’t it?
Neil Coyle MP: Definitely.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: It has to happen with people with experience.
Neil Coyle MP: Absolutely and very much part of the disability rights movement is ‘nothing about us without us,’ and the National Centre for Independent Living is involved in the Experts by Experience Programme in social care because you can’t build services, support or treatment without actually understanding what it is people want, care about and need. Children are just as much part of that as adults.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely.
Neil Coyle MP: If we continue to build services without the participation of the experts who live with conditions and live with the… we’ve both clearly got personal experience of not just a failure on the part of the services but a resistance to linking in with services because of other experiences. Imagine reshaping that so that people didn’t have the negative experience and could then seek treatment, whatever it might be, and just engage more freely and in more control which I hope will be part of the reshaping of services.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Absolutely and going back a few steps, more acceptance as well around mental illness and overcoming that stigma. You mentioned before about helping people seem less strange but actually, maybe we should be focusing on just the people who are thinking that in the first place [laughter].
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, I think what I was saying was less strange to other people.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Exactly, yeah.
Neil Coyle MP: Actually, I think it does make it easier for me to have difficult conversations with constituents [laughter]. Obviously, pre-Covid, we’d have open-door surgeries and people would just turn up and it’s been easier for me to deal with those who can present when unwell and in a confused state. I had one constituent sitting in front of me who said her family were persecuting her and during the conversation, it became clear that she thought they were in the room with us right then. Once I realised that, it made other avenues and support for her a little bit easier actually. Mental ill health is part of almost everyone’s life at some point in their life and for most people, that’s depression and grieving around the loss of a loved one. I think the figure is four in ten people who will experience mental ill health on a personal level at some point in their life. So it is part of normal life and we are all strange in our own ways and a bit more acceptance of difference is no bad thing.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: And open conversations and that will have a knock-on effect then on the children who are going through these experiences right alongside the grown-ups.
Neil Coyle MP: I don’t know but probably this is more from Dad than from Mum but I’ve always been quite testy [laughter] about some of this. I’ve never shied away from talking about Mum, like that initial poor experience with a friend. To be fair, I don’t think we were as close friends after that because of his reaction. If I’ve told people about Mum and they’ve reacted badly, well bad luck you because [laughter] I don’t need that and I won’t put up with rubbish. It’s there and I’ve not been able to change it or remove it, so it is Mum. It’s my mum. It’s the only mum I’ve ever known and you love your family no matter what.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: But this can serve you well. I don’t think you would be where you are now without them [laughter].
Neil Coyle MP: I do think you develop coping mechanisms and self-defence mechanisms as well and maybe that’s part of it. I think, in my family, a lot of it has been around a sense of humour that can be quite dark at times and we do take the proverbial mickey out of each other in a way that I’ve known friends to be a little surprised at [laughter]. It’s given us a strength. I think we’ve given each other strength, as siblings as well as through living through it, but also helping deal with some of it.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: I’m glad that the outcome has been a good one for you.
Neil Coyle MP: Yeah, and the part of the change in attitudes that needs to come in terms of mental health law perhaps is that we shouldn’t fear mental ill health. We should work out how to adapt and adjust and support those who experience it, both the individual and families, because that’s crucial. That’s how you build services that actually work. There is still too much fear, suspicion and misunderstanding and a lot of that needs to be tackled if we’re to get better results and services. As I say, I’m as motivated now as a Member of Parliament by the need to improve and save money by delivering better services and getting better outcomes for people with mental health problems and their children. That’s just as important. If anything, the amount of money that gets lost in the system by doing things wrong and not intervening at the right times makes it even worse.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: It’s an issue of prevention. This is actually prevention…
Neil Coyle MP: Absolutely.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: …and working with the children and their families, alongside just treating the illness and the person with the illness, will prevent further issues down the line, including issues with the mental health of the child.
Neil Coyle MP: Of course and it comes back to this… do we wait for the crisis or an emergency or do we deal with it upfront? In other conditions, I think we’re getting a bit better with diabetes, obesity, smoking, cancer and other conditions and yet we still haven’t really punched through fully on mental health. Don’t wait for a crisis and the police arriving at A&E. It’s just not a sensible system for anybody, let alone the children who are still in too many numbers out there without sufficient support for a parent with a mental health condition.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Neil, I honestly could talk to you about this all day. I can’t thank you enough for coming and I know how hard it is to talk about this.
Neil Coyle MP: It’s been a little bit more difficult than I expected but actually, one thing it’s made me realise is I haven’t spoken to Mum for a couple of weeks, so I should call after this but also that talking to you has been fascinating because I don’t think I have enough of these conversations with other people who’ve had similar or shared experiences.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: That’s part of the reason why we’ve done this because I think we don’t have these conversations. The first one of these episodes that I did, it dawned on me it was the first proper conversation I’d had about my mum with somebody with a similar experience ever and so I’m really glad that you’ve enjoyed it and also thank you for opening up. Honestly, thank you so much for being so candid as well. It’s not easy and… it’s always raw actually. It lives with you. It lives with me every day.
Neil Coyle MP: Getting support is so crucial to the wellbeing of children.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: It is. Thank you, Neil, so much.
Neil Coyle MP: No, it’s good. I’m glad we’ve had this conversation.
Dr Pamela Jenkins: Gosh, I don’t know about you but I think it’s rare to hear an MP talking so personally and candidly. Thank you so much again to Neil Coyle.ct your GP, the Samaritans on:
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