Susannah Constantine: Living with my mother’s bipolar made me stronger

Jayne Cherrington-Cook
·4 min read
Susannah Constantine says living with her mother's mental health problems has made her stronger (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for BGC)
Susannah Constantine says living with her mother's mental health problems has made her stronger (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for BGC)

Former What Not To Wear star Susannah Constantine has revealed the highs and lows of growing up with a mother who had bipolar disorder.

Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the style guru said that she believes her mother's life-long illness, despite being difficult at times, has given her the strength she’s needed to cope in life.

“I don't think I've ever been totally broken,” she told podcast host Kate Thornton.

“I've never allow myself to be totally broken, because my mother was severely bipolar and there were multiple suicide attempts. 

"I learned from a very young age to cope, so I've had this coping mechanism which has stood me in good stead. Actually, it's made me very, very strong in a in a lot of ways. It's also damaging in other ways.”

Watch: Susannah Constantine opens up about her mother's tragic battles with mental health

Last year, Constantine opened up about her own battle with alcoholism and how she had been in recovery for seven years. While some may be tempted to link her mother’s mental health problems for her own reliance on alcohol, Constantine instead likes to see the positives her mother left her with.

“I don't look back and think ‘Oh, God! Poor young small Susanna’. I had the love of an amazing mother,” the 58-year-old said.

Read more: Why myths about bipolar are so damaging

She continued: “She was an incredible woman. She was totally not judgmental, and she never felt she was better than anyone else, and I learned that from her and that's a great gift. 

"That's something I try and instil into my own children never to think they're better than anyone else.”

Listen: Susannah Constantine reveals why she was rude to Dame Kristin Scott Thomas

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While Constantine insisted that children are 'brilliant at adapting' when it comes to problems at home, she did recall one incident as a teenager that really moved her.

“I was quite isolated growing up as a child, so I didn't really know other people's parents,” she revealed.

“But I do remember going to stay with someone when I was about 15 – a school friend – and the mother waking me up in the morning with a cup of tea. I remember being so moved and emotional by that, that someone's mother would do that.”

Read more: Susannah Constantine reveals 30-year battle with anxiety made her want to 'end it all'

Constantine’s mother died in 2007 and although it was a sad occasion, the TV star said there was definitely an element of relief when she passed.

“When she died, she was almost in a catatonic state and do you know, it was a relief for her?” she told Thornton.

“She was in so much pain we could see etched all over her face. It had been in so much pain for the latter part of her life that it was a relief for her that she passed away.”

Susannah Constantine revealed that Princess Margaret, who she met when dating her son David, was like a second mother to her (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)
Susannah Constantine revealed that Princess Margaret, who she met when dating her son David, was like a second mother to her (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

For Constantine, who formed a close mother-daughter relationship with Princess Margaret when she dated her son David Armstrong-Jones, said her only regret for her late mother is that she hadn’t had the right support that’s available now.

“I wish I'd known then — in hindsight — what I know now because she could have been helped far more effectively because, mental illnesses is something people are talking about now,” said the former Strictly Come Dancing contestant.

“My father was in denial about it and she was just thrown pills and more pills and more pills and that was it. She never once went into psychotherapy. It was just a catalogue of different medication, suicide attempts into you know, residential care out and she'd be alright for a bit and then they changed her medication.”

For confidential emotional support at times of distress, contact The Samaritans at any time by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org.

Hear Susannah Constantine talk about the shame of being a female alcoholic in the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Watch: Susannah Constantine on Princess Margaret being her second mother