Helen Flanagan opens up about psychosis that left her terrified as she breaks down in tears in her most candid interview yet

Helen Flanagan poses with her three children by the tranquil Merseyside coast in what is possibly her most candid interview ever, and it’s obvious the actress has come a long way since the “very scary” psychosis episode she thought might rob her of everything she holds dear.

Helen’s nightmare began after what looked like a dream New Year’s holiday to Bali with her three kids – Matilda, eight, Delilah, five, and three-year-old Charlie – but despite posting a stream of smiley photos to social media, her reality was actually very different.

“My kids weren’t with me on Christmas Day because I like to be really fair with my ex, and I know it sounds so silly because it was only one day, but it hit me really hard,” she says. “The plan was for me to take them to Bali for New Year instead, and although I enjoyed it, I didn’t feel myself, I was struggling. I felt terrible when I got back, I was crying all the time, I felt so low.”

Helen Flanagan
Helen has exclusively opened up to OK! about her mental health journey -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White
Helen Flanagan, and children, Matilda, Delilah and Charlie
Helen is devoted to her three children - Matilda, Delilah and Charlie -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

The former Coronation Street star, 33, who gets very emotional during various points in our chat, admits that she now realises she was “mentally and physically breaking down” and that she had unresolved trauma – a lot of it down to her 2022 break-up with footballer Scott Sinclair, who she was engaged to for 13 years and is the father of her children.

“Without sounding dramatic, it can be emotionally traumatising going through something like that,” she tells us. “I don’t see it as a break-up, I see it as a divorce. We were together for 13 years and have three children. But instead of processing it all, I threw myself into work and shut off my emotions. I just went into survival mode. Then it all came to the surface earlier this year and I was mentally and physically breaking down.”

Struggling to feel “normal”, she started medicating her ADHD but had an “awful reaction” to her prescription and spiralled into a “scary” place. It sent her into what she now knows was a psychotic episode (psychosis), described by the mental health charity Mind as “when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you”. Common experiences include delusions, disorganised thinking and speech and hallucinations.

Helen Flanagan
Helen realised she had to deal with underlying trauma -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

Helen still finds it hard to talk about that time, tearing up when she recounts the harrowing details. “It was really sad and very scary,” she shares. “I was seeing things and I felt like I was in danger all the time, I was very scared.”

The hardest part for Helen was that she didn’t realise what was happening at the time. Her nanny, who offers an extra pair of hands when needed, contacted Helen’s mum and dad – Julia and Paul – to alert them that something was wrong and Helen agreed for her children to stay with them while she sought help.

“My mum’s an amazing Grandma, and my dad’s an amazing Grandad, I was very fortunate and very lucky to have that help,” she says. “It was so hard, but I wanted to do what was best for the kids, and that was the right decision at the time. I saw them every day because it was important for them to see me getting stronger.”

Helen Flanagan
Helen says it was necessary but hard leaving her children with her mum and dad -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White
Helen Flanagan, and children, Matilda, Delilah and Charlie
The children now reap the benefits of Helen's healing and recovery journey -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

She was also forced to pull out of her “dream job” playing Miss Scarlett in the theatre tour of Cluedo 2, and was replaced by her former Corrie co-star Ellie Leach. Helen is a consummate professional, having joined Coronation Street as Rosie Webster when she was just nine, clocking up more than 1,000 episodes before leaving in 2018.

“I was in Coronation Street from a very young age, so I know about professionalism. You never miss a filming day, you just don’t, so I was mortified. It sounds ridiculous now but I was heartbroken. It was my dream job and I thought I’d ruined my career. But I knew I needed to deal with things so I wouldn’t ever get to that place again.”

As well as traditional therapy, Helen also engaged a ‘healer’ to help work through her emotional damage. On top of getting back into one of her big loves – exercise – Helen says tackling long-overdue tasks like decluttering her house helped clear her mind and start eroding the trauma.

“I’ve done a lot of healing and recovering. I’ve realised that yes, I love work, but actually my kids need me at home more than I have been. Having that time off was actually healthy, it changed my life in a way,” she says.

Helen Flanagan, and children, Matilda, Delilah and Charlie
Helen has a better relationship than ever with her kids' dad Scott Sinclair -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

On top of helping her emotionally, the healing work had another brilliant bonus – improving her relationship with Scott, 35. Despite knowing “two happy homes are better than one unhappy home”, she says the painful break-up made it difficult adjusting to becoming co-parents, so she threw herself into work and buried her heartbreak. But the pair are now in a “better place than ever”, she says, and are co-parenting in the healthiest and happiest way possible.

She explains, “We can have a laugh together, which is brilliant. When we found each other on a dating app we had a laugh about it, which shows how far we’ve come! I don’t want to live with toxic feelings, I really want to get on with the father of my kids and he’s the same. He stays with his mum and we’ve always been really close, so she’s a saving grace for me. I know when they’re with Scott they’re seeing their Nana Sally too.”

When the couple first split, Helen admits she “would just go to London and drink”, to escape her empty house when the kids were with Scott. Today though, it’s a different story. “I really love it now,” she says, bursting out laughing. “I couldn’t stop crying the first time, but now I really love it."

Helen Flanagan and son Charlie
Helen wants her kids to see her live a "fearless" life now -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White
Helen Flanagan
Helen makes the most of her time at home alone -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

“I stay at home, watch TV, do some Pilates or go for a run or a swim. It’s important we don’t lose ourselves as mums. I love my children more than anything but we don’t own our kids – we bring them up, love them, give them everything, then you have to let them go. So, it’s important I still have my own identity. I want them to see me as fearless.”

While she’s still gutted she missed playing sultry Miss Scarlett, she knows it was the right decision. The tour would’ve meant spending months on the road. “If I’d have been mentally well enough to do it, it would’ve been fine, but because I was basically having a breakdown, I couldn’t have been travelling on my own. I really needed my friends and family, and I needed to be there for my children,” she says.

Helen has actually been to see Ellie, who she once shared a Corrie dressing room with, in the role – which shows how far she’s come in terms of tackling her emotions head-on. “She’s a really lovely girl and a fantastic actress,” she says. “I went to see the show and she was brilliant. I took a friend for a bit of support – I didn’t want to bury the emotions, it was important to go and support it.”

A big part of Helen’s current work is her social media campaigns, including her recent stints working with Ann Summers. She’s incredibly proud and happy to “get a bit sexy”, she says, and is also fully aware of the ‘judgemental’ comments she attracts as a mum.

Helen Flanagan
Helen is proud to embrace her body and doesn't care what other people think -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White
Helen Flanagan
The mum of three likes to have an identity outside of her young family -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

“Just because we’re mums doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate ourselves and be sexy, right? I love to dress sexy and I’ve always done lingerie modelling – it’s empowering. I’m all for women embracing their bodies and feeling good. I get a bit stick for it on social media, but so what? I’ve been in the public eye since I was young, so I’m used to it all. But I’m very much a free spirit and just like to be myself, I don’t let other people bother me,” she says.

As well as attracting criticism, Helen’s sexy posts also receive the opposite – calls for her to show more skin. Many fans have commented asking her to join the adult content site OnlyFans, following in the footsteps of former Hollyoaks star Sarah Jayne Dunn, 42, who has reportedly made over £700,00 from selling her content.

So, would Helen take any inspiration from her? “Ahh, I love Sarah,” she beams. “What she’s done is amazing. I’m not judgemental at all, I just don’t think OnlyFans is for me. A friend suggested it to me too, but I just don’t really fancy it. I don’t know why some people have such a problem with what other people do, I just think ‘each to their own’, so I don’t let any of the social comments get to me.”

Given she’s happy – and single – Helen knows her love life is a hot topic. When we broach whether she feels ready to start dating again, she bursts out laughing. “Well, I tried a dating app,” she grins. “I went on a few dates and the people were really lovely, but I don’t really like the idea of choosing a partner based on looks. I definitely still believe in love and The One, but I think I’ll just go with the flow now. I hadn’t been on the dating scene for 13 years so it’s like a whole new world now.”

Matilda, Delilah and Charlie
Matilda, Delilah and Charlie now have "two happy homes" with their mum Helen and dad Scott -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White
Matilda and Delilah
Matilda is a "little angel" and Delilah is "hilarious", Helen says -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

Now she’s feeling strong again, Helen is focusing her attention on her children. She is besotted with them, she says, and she’s more aware than ever of the importance of having a strong emotional bond with them for the sake of their own mental health.

“Matilda is a little angel, she’s such a pure soul. She’s definitely more sensitive, so I’m going to watch that and make sure she knows I’m always here,” she says. “As the eldest, she was obviously more affected by the break-up, so I know I’ve got to be careful with those feelings. I want them to be able to talk to me about anything.

“Then Delilah is just like me, we’ve got really similar personalities. She’s hilarious, really, really funny. And Charlie is beautiful, he’s such a gorgeous, cute little boy. They’re all different but such beautiful little people. And they’ve also got my accent, so I always take the mick out of Scott because obviously he’s from the south!”

Helen Flanagan with Matilda and Delilah
Helen's kids are still at the centre of her universe, but she's a happier and healthier mum -Credit:OK! Magazine / Chelsea White

While Helen still struggles recounting the trauma of what happened this year, she’s determined to speak openly about it in an attempt to shed the stigma around mental health. She’s also done enough reflecting to see that huge positives came out of her darkest moments.

She adds, “If I’m honest, I don’t think I would’ve ever worked on my relationship with Scott if it hadn’t all happened, so having the time out changed everything for the better and I’m happy to admit that.

“I’ve always been open, it’s partly my personality and partly my ADHD. But I’ve never wanted to talk about mental health too much. I know I’m lucky; I’ve got beautiful children and lots of good things in my life. I hope talking might make someone feel less alone.”