The Crooked House

The Challenges of Adult Children with a Mentally Ill Parent


Links and Resources

for families dealing with a mentally ill parent

“Shortly after I was born, my mother was taken away from or I was taken away from my mother. This was done because she was mentally ill. She suffered from severe chronic depression, which required that she be committed to a private sanitarium. She never recovered and, eventually, when my father ran out of money, she was placed in a state hospital in upper New York for thirty-five years–the rest of her life.”

(From “Leaving Home, A Memoir” by Art Buchwald)

A number of poignant and evocative books have been written about the experience of adult children of mentally ill parents. Here are a few….


THE MEMORY PALACE: by Mira Bartok (Free Press)

Click titles to read other excerpts

New York Times Review:

"At the center of Mira Bartok's memoir about her schizophrenic mother is a beautiful metaphor: a memory palace. The idea, she explains, derives from the sixth-century B.C. Greek poet Simonides, who was attending a party at a palace and stepped outside just before the building collapsed. Because he could recall where all the other guests had been standing, Simonides alone could identify the mangled bodies...It is easy to see why Simonides' story -- a fable about the importance of memory -- speaks to Bartok, who has constructed a life on the rubble of a catastrophically ruined family."

The Memory Palace cover

Duaghters of MadnessThe author has done extensive interviews with a variety of women who grew up with the pain and stress of being the daughter of a mother who has chronic mental illness -- depression, psychotic breaks, rages, mania. As Dr. Nathiel points out "a daughter looks to her {mother} not only for the deepest and most abiding love, but also a sense of what the world is all about."

Helen: She was warm towards other people. It was only us–my sister and myself, who lived in the house–who saw the other way she was. We always felt like we didn't dare say anything, because everybody was crazy about my mother. We sort of had to keep it to ourselves just the two of us. Luckily we had each other, and we were honest with each other. We could talk to each other."

ANNA AND THE SEA; A story to help children understand a parent's mental illness. by Rebecca Heinish and illustrated by Claire Bellerive (available from the Anna and the Sea Association).
Anna and the SeaAnna is unable to talk with anyone about her unhappiness that her mother is ill until she makes friends with some unconventional friends -- a crab named Gustav. Her new friend helps her gain understanding about this difficult situation experienced by many children.
I'M NOT ALONE; A Teen's Guide to Living with a Parent who Has a Mental Illness by Michelle Sherman and DeAnne Sherman
I'm not alone bookAdolescence is a difficult time for any girl or boy -- having a parent with mental illness just makes it much more so. This book is a workbook which offers solid information and also gives teens the opportunity to express their anger, guilt, sadness and sense of isolation.
SWALLOW THE OCEAN; A MEMOIR by Laura M. Flynn (Counterpoint)

“Someone once said that having a relative with schizophrenia is like a funeral that never ends. Certainly, the woman I knew as a child is gone. Yet there is no grave, no stone, no eulogy, to mark her passing. When a parent dies, a child may be comforted by the thought that the parent’s spirit is watching over her. We kneel at gravesides to address our prayers, our grief, our anger, our words to the dead. I can’t address my mother, not in this life, nor in any other.”





Swallow the Ocean
“Perhaps the most unsettling thing regarding my mother’s “remission” was its suddenness. With Dad around and in front of other adults, she was able to act the part of the responsible parent and spouse. She made suppers, fixed up the cottage, signed forms that came home from school. But when there were no adults around she was unreliable. Sometimes my mother would seem normal. Other times the switch would just go off in her head and she would come after me or my sister with some relentless tirade of accusations that we simply learned to endure until she wore herself out….I guess the question I ask myself the most is why didn’t I tell on Mom. Why, when she treated me and my sister with contempt,violence or just neglected us, didn’t I scream and shout and make a fuss until someone did something? I knew something was really wrong and knew that my sister and I saw the worst of it and yet I was too scared.” Rescuing Patty Hearst
DAUGHTER OF THE QUEEN OF SHEBA by Jacki Lyden (Penguin Books)

This is from an essay Jacki Lyden wrote about her book…

"The experience of living within a universe without light, prediction and a world you can name—this is experience of living, I think, in the absence of reason. This was my mother's distant and unreachable, unknowable world of delusion. Daughter of the Queen of Sheba attempts to enter that world in the only way we framing it, by turning on the light, by giving it a vocabulary and imposing a circular chronology. In the real world, I was fascinated by the roots of my mother's mental illness. Madness was for me the sheer vocabulary of the imagination. And yet, in the real world, you cannot have a dialogue with someone who is mad—who is delusional. You can attempt it, but it will be what turning the pages of a book is to reading, or listening to a melody you know in a language you cannot quite catch. On the page, however, I could have a dialogue with the Queen of Sheba. I could define her terms, so to speak. I could give her a history, a reason to become an all-conquering power. I could speak back to her where in real life I was nothing but one of her more difficult subjects. This time, in the world on the page I had my own sense of authority in what was previously her dominion. She could hardly answer me back or turn away from me. Writing was a chance to meet her in her own country, the country of the imagination, and capture her, on the page, as I could never hope to do in life. In real life of course, my mother is a free spirit—here, I have her down, one interpretation anyway. Sometimes I imagine Daughter of the Queen of Sheba like a verse poem, written by an apostle long after the's a canon about or a mythology about an almost mystical event."

Daughter of the Queen of Sheba

This book, first published in 1997, contains many accounts of what mental illness has been like for sons and daughters, siblings and spouses. Secunda also discusses the turning points that people experience and coping skills they develop in coming to terms with the difficulties in their lives.

Here's a quote from the book:

"What was the worst thing about my childhood? Boy, ten years ago I could have told you. Now I'm not sure. I'd love to say it was my dad's alcoholism, or my mom's mental illness, or their divorce, or all the times we moved, or my being everyone's caretaker, or my brother's drug addiction. But at this point, I don't think anything was really worse or better than anything else. It was all just sort of different. I guess the "dysfunctional family" model works best. The bottom line is, it wasn't safe to be close to anybody. That's why I bailed out." (Vera, 29)

When Madness comes home


on the Web

Nothing to be Ashamed of: Growing up with Mental Illness in Your Family. Sherry H. Dinner. 1989.

I'm Not Alone: A Teen's Guide to Living with a Parent Who Has a Mental Illness by Michelle D. Sherman, PhD & DeAnne M. Sherman (Seeds of Hope Books by Beaver Pond Press, Inc. Edina, MN, 2006) This book may be purchased through the Seeds of Hope Books website.  

The Outsider: A Journey into My Father’s Struggle with Madness by Nathaniel Lachenmeyer (Broadway Books, NY 2000).

Children of Parents With Mental Illness by Vicki Cowling (Editor)

Children Caring for Parents With Mental Illness: Perspectives of Young Carers, Parents and Professionals by Jo Aldridge and Saul Becker

Wishing Wellness: A Workbook for Children of Parents with Mental Illness by Lisa Anne Clarke

Searching for Mercy Street by Linda Gray Sexton -- the book describes a childhood dominated by the mental illness of her larger-than-life mother, the poet Anne Sexton who committed suicide when her daughter was 21.

Unlisted: A Story of Schizophrenia
a documentary film by Delaney Ruston, MD

Out of the Shadow

When documentary filmmaker Susan Smiley decided she was finally ready to turn the camera on her own family, the result became out of the
shadow, the story of her family's secret struggle to deal with her mother's
schizophrenia within the confines of the public health system. This film is a
story of madness and dignity, shame and love, illuminating a national plight through one family's journey. Visit web site.


This facebook page is a support page for YC's. You can express yourself in a comfortable environment. It doesn't matter who you look after etc. We offer support and understanding. :) visit >>


We also discovered a number of links to information/research for individuals who have or had a parent with mental illness. Some of these are:

NAMI - (National Alliance on Mental Illness) NAMI offers a course called “Family to Family” in every community. The free 12-week course is exceptionally helpful in dealing with the challenges of having a parent who had or has mental illness. Try to locate the NAMI affiliate in your community and find when the course is offered.

University of Illinois Counseling Center - this site is very comprehensive in dealing with this issue. - America's Mental Health Channel

eNotAlone - Parents with Mental Illness

Surviving parents with mental illness

SAMHSA National Mental Health Information Center

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry

World Fellowship for Schizophrenia and other allied disorders

Resources for and about children of a parent with a psychiatric illness
from University of Michigan

Resources for Supporting Families Dealing with Parental Mental Illness
Daughters & Sons of Parents with Mental Illness Working Group June 2009



Whatever your age, whatever difficulties you’ve experienced because of the challenge of growing up with a parent who had mental illness, we encourage you to seek support, to seek guidance, to know that you are not alone.

Learn about support groups that exist in many cities. You may wish to create one in your community.




"Those who take this journey of descent into their own sacred wound understand

that what is flawed in them is somehow intimately connected to the unique gift

that they have to offer to a broken world..." (Bill Sabath)



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