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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Tulisa - My Mum and me


Tulisa - My Mum and me is an hour long documentary film directed by Rowan Deacon featuring the singer songwriter Tulisa Contostavlos, formerly a member of the group N-Dubz but now a solo artist and judge on the ITV entertainment programme X-Factor. The film, which was made for the BBC in 2010, is an account of Tulisa’s life as a young child and teenager growing up with her mother who has schizoaffective disorder.  Presented and narrated by Tulisa, she meets and interviews several other young people who are involved in caring for their mentally ill mothers. She encourages them to explore options for support in the community that might alleviate the strain that all of them are suffering in various ways. Unusually for Minds on Film, interested readers will not have to purchase Tulisa - My Mum and me to see it, as it is freely and legitimately available to view on-line, at Vimeo, where the director has posted it.


Tulisa: My Mum and Me from Rowan Deacon on Vimeo.

The Film

The film opens with Tulisa visiting the hospital in North London where her mother was detained under the Mental Health Act when Tulisa was just five years old. She remembers how distressing it was to see the police forcibly restrain her Mum and remove her from their home. Her father left the family when Tulisa was nine, and she has been the main carer for her mother since that time. Tulisa recalls the effect that her home situation had on her and how it resulted in her dropping out of secondary school by the age of 15, abusing alcohol and cannabis, joining a gang and attempting to harm herself. Tulisa recounts that she was depressed in mood from the age of 13 until she discovered her musical ability, which quite literally ‘saved her’. Tulisa realises that music has given her a road out of the life that she grew up with, in contrast to the other younger people that Tulisa interviews for the film, who are all still struggling to manage the difficulties of their caring role.

First, she visits Mia, aged 16, who lives with her younger brother and her mother who suffers from bipolar disorder. Mia describes the very frightening experiences of supporting her mother when depressed and suicidal as well as how precarious life became when her mother was elated. Mia also needed to take care of her little brother when her mother was unwell. For Mia, it was a love of reading that rescued her and offered her a means of escaping from her reality. Things have been better for Mia since her mother has been stable on regular medication. Next Tulisa meets with Hannah, aged 15, who lives with her Mum who suffers from depression. She has been forced to leave mainstream education after a fight with a teacher and is struggling to manage her anger and low mood. Hannah’s life appears to be quite desperate and isolated and she is asking for help urgently. Tulisa persuades Hannah to attend a Young Carers group some distance from her home, which proves to be a positive experience for her. Lastly, she visits Andy, aged 17, who lives with his younger brother and his Mum, who suffers from depression and cannot survive without knowing that Andy is physically close to her. He describes their relationship as “connected at the hip....She [his Mum] is just like my best friend”. He hopes to leave home and join the Navy in two years, if his Mum can let him go.

In a particularly sensitive interview that Tulisa has with one of her aunts, she hears how her mother also had musical talent and was part of a successful singing group, with her own sisters, when she first became mentally unwell at the age of 22. Worries about the stresses of touring and performing in her pop star lifestyle, prompt Tulisa to ask questions about her own risks of developing an illness like her mother’s. Tulisa meets with Professor Nick Craddock to seek advice from him about the genetics of schizoaffective disorder and  the individual risk factors that she herself may have for developing an illness similar to her mother’s. Some footage of N-Dubz on tour help to give a flavour of Tulisa’s lifestyle with its necessary highs and lows. Finally, she revisits the three other young people for a follow up on their progress before we see her moving in to her own home in which she has prepared a special room for her Mum to come and stay. As we see her showing her Mum the room and wondering about their future, Tulisa says “You never stop being a young carer”.


Relevance to the field of Mental Health

This film explores a very important topic, that of young people who find themselves as carers for a mentally ill parent. The film estimates that there are around 80,000 young people caring for a parent with mental health problems in the UK. Through the very personal form of narration, the viewer is witness to an intimate experience of the stresses young carers must deal with and how their lives can be adversely affected. In particular it highlights the sense of isolation that is commonly experienced by a young person in this situation and offers some suggestions about how they might get support. This film would be a perfect foundation for a discussion of the wider effects that mental illness can have on a family, especially when there are young people in the home.

A detailed discussion of this subject is available in an article published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment in 2010, called ‘Living upside down': being a young carer of a parent with mental illness' by Dr Alan Cooklin (16: 141-146; abstract). This topic was also discussed in an earlier Minds on Film blog about the film Tarnation, which readers might find interesting to watch alongside Tulisa My Mum and me. Further advice is available for young people who find themselves in the role of carer at the NHS choices website and also at the Carers Trust YCNet.

As a freely available short documentary, I would recommend Tulisa My Mum and me to anyone working in the field of mental health.

•  Minds on Film is written by consultant psychiatrist Dr Joyce Almeida



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I was interested to watch Tulisa - my mum and I as I teach in a college where many of my students have parents that suffer from mental disorders or are sufferers themselves. I was really moved by Tulisa's honesty, sincerity and care towards the young people in the documentary. It is so important that people like her talk about their experiences to remove the stigma and make these young people feel that they are not alone.


Nancy Jenkins

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About this blog


Minds on Film is a monthly blog that explores psychiatric conditions and mental health issues as portrayed in a selection of readily available films.

Please note that this blog may contain plot spoilers. Any views expressed are purely my own.

Dr Joyce Almeida
Dr Almeida is a consultant
psychiatrist working in the private sector in the UK.