Trapped in the hell of their parent's suffering Print E-mail
Written by Julie-Anne Davies   
By Julie-Anne Davies
Melbourne Age, 10 March 2002

The physical damage is all too obvious; the girl's legs and arms are swathed in bandages to protect her badly burnt limbs although her raw, blistered toes provide a clue to what lies beneath. The invisible scars are more elusive, they reveal themselves when she sleeps. Then, she relives over and over the moment when her already chaotic world became a nightmare.

"Carly", a name she has chosen for this story, came home from school one day last year and her mother, who suffers from schizophrenia, poured petrol on her daughter and herself and the room they were standing in and lit a match.

Carly, who is 14, spent 11 weeks in the Royal Children's Hospital with burns to 45percent of her body. She has had many operations and there are more to come. She is scarred for life and lives in hiding from her mother who, after being admitted to hospital after the attack, was released and is living in Melbourne. The police have laid no charges despite urgings from Carly's father and health professionals. The only protection on offer for Carly at the moment is a restraining order.

It is estimated that as many as one in five Australians suffers some form of mental illness, ranging from schizophrenia to depression. International research shows that children of parents with depression are eight times more likely to attempt suicide than other children. According to the Victorian Department of Human Services, nearly 20 per cent of notifications received last year concerned children whose parent or parents suffered from a mental illness.

These children are often the invisible victims of mental illness. Their experience translates into hidden feelings of anger, rage, fear, isolation, humiliation, loneliness, guilt and profound sadness.
Trying to figure out why it happened is obviously something that consumes Carly.Although she's come a long way since that day last September, it is still too soon for her to give up her own sense of guilt about her mother's actions.
"I wore my hair in a pony tail that day, maybe that was it because, you know, I don't usually do that," she reasons.

"At first when I was in hospital I couldn't think about what my mum did to me but then the dreams started," Carly explains slowly, guarded in her answers, wary of the intrusion yet desperate to be heard. "Now I do think about it and I find it hard to forgive her, although I know she is sick."

Asleep at night, Carly has faced the flames again and again. A measure of how far she has come since the fire is reflected in her most recent dream. "I dreamt about a bowl of petrol and in it, I just threw a match and it caught fire but the flames were just within the bowl, they didn't reach me."

Carly's childhood effectively ended when she was 10. That was when her dad moved out. From that time, Carly was her mother's protector, trying to keep their secret, keep them fed, keep her mother's medication going and keep herself safe. She knew intuitively that her life was not like other girls. Her mum not only was different because of her illness, she looked different. And sometimes, she smelt. Carly did what many children in her position do, she retreated. She had no friends, she and her mother lived in squalor and ate junk food. They were so obviously outsiders in their community.

"My mum didn't teach me things I should have known and so I learnt the hard way," Carly says. "You know, matters of hygiene and stuff. I used to get stirred at school for being smelly because I just didn't know anything."

She remembers one occasion when she was 12; she accompanied her mother to the doctors.

"She got upset and the nurses called the police and they came and took her away but noone told me so I was left sitting in this waiting room until finally I sort of figured out what had happened and I just went home and stayed with a neighbour."

Wasn't she scared being on her own? "I just thought 'Oh well, I've got to look after myself' but, you know, I could also relax a bit too because mum was in hospital. The worst thing was not knowing what she'd do next and I guess it gave me a break when she went away to hospital."

    Another time when she was in primary school, her mother threw a table at her. She spent the night in her room waiting for morning so she could escape to school. Protective services was called in because that time the evidence of her mother's abuse was plain; Carly's face was black and blue.

It wasn't the first time child protection had received notifications about Carly. According to documents seen by The Sunday Age, there had been at least five other reports. On at least one of these occasions abuse had been substantiated but the authorities decided Carly should remain with her mother. Support services were introduced, Carly's mother was given her medication by injection in an attempt to stabilise her condition. The adult mental health services did all they could to keep Carly's mother at home with her daughter. But then the abuse was too bad. She was sent to live with her father.

A confidential court report written at the time stated: "It is sad when a 12-year-old child has to carry the responsibility of an adult and that her parents don't allow her to be a child."

Four months later Carly went back to her mother. While it is worth questioning the welfare authorities' decision to send her back to her mother's care, Carly's reasons are more understandable.

"I didn't think she'd hurt me again, but she did," she murmurs pointing to her bandaged legs. "And, I went because I was worried about her being on her own."

It is a statement that lays bare the intolerable responsibility many children with mentally ill parents shoulder.

The parent/child roles are reversed to such a degree that children often convince authorities they are coping. Sometimes the authorities do not take much convincing, says Paul McKillop, the convenor of the National Network for Adult and Adolescent Children of Mentally Ill parents.

The son of a mentally ill woman, McKillop has been waging a lonely campaign for years to convince government that the children of the mentally ill need their own support services. The emphasis of existing mental health services - and there are many - appears to be on getting the ill parent well, not on the residual damage being suffered by the child who has become the defacto parent, McKillop says.

"These children are not going to have it easy, but they deserve to have a few cushions put under them," he says. "I often hear, 'if we could only get rid of the stigma regarding mental illness everything would be better'. No, I'm sorry. crap. Mental illness is not going to go away even if you could take away the stigma, the effect on these kids would still remain."

McKillop managed to convince the State Government to give the group a computer, which sits in his suburban lounge room. Every night he comes home from work - he is a counsellor - to read the 50 or so e-mails the group receives daily from the children of the mentally ill. They contain things like this:

"She's cunning, you know. She took us by the hand and led us to the car. She bribed us with chips and Coke and the pipe was connected to the exhaust but then Dad came home to collect some things he had left in the garage," the child of a schizophrenic mother wrote.

"Look we're not asking for better mental health services," McKillop says. "That's for other organisations to lobby for. I mean if mental health services ran barbecues and discos on Sundays none of the kids we come into contact with would go because they don't want to be caught up in the system that cares for their parent. They want to know their mum or dad is getting treatment but they need counselling services and respite where their needs are the most important thing, not anyone else's."


"The Victorian Courts in Melbourne recently at the hearing, only gave my mother a Two Year Good Behavior Bond! No order to attend psychiatric treatment or to instruct her to accept treatment or medication! She has not, to date, since the above day been made to attend any hospital or served any sentence in custody in any facility appropriate for her needs. At the time of burning me, after a short hospital checkup, she had been released soon after to a special accommodation home.

I wish to say in my view this does not give the right message to our community or to people with mental illness. What is going on with the Justice System in our state? Psychiatrists reports to courts get mentally ill people off serious offences, as I have been told by police and others mental illness is a defence. So you can be mentally ill attempt to kill some one, and because you have a mental illness never see consequences for your actions. I don't wish my mother any ill but... This sends the wrong message to everyone involved. Who will change this stupid system? My mother does not get help treatment or hospital even prison is not seen as a solution."

Melbourne Australia.
August 2004



Jarvis Walker     Arlec

You can help NNAAMI by purchasing one of the products below:

© 2001 National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent
Tax Deductable Reg Charity. Inc.Vic. AOO33733N ABN 41 286 047 141

N.B. All items on this site remain the property of NNAAMI. Permission is granted to duplicate and distribute any items on this site for school student purposes only provided you acknowledge the source. However, written permission is required for any reproduction or for reproduction in public forums / conferences presentations.


Contact Us


You can help NNAAMI by giving a dontation.


Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


South East Asia