|The 'Forgotten People'|
|Written by Anna Malbon|
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.
Confident, polite, articulate and intelligent, Tom seems older than his nine years.
That's probably because he has lived with his mother's frequent suicide attempts, obsessions about being surrounded by Nazis and bouts in hospital. He has also watched her inability to protect herself, let alone him.
Tom drew the disturbing picture after he overheard his mother, who has schizophrenia, telling a friend her plan to kill her only son.
Tom said he wanted to talk publicly about being the child of a parent with mental illness in the hope children like him would stop feeling they were the only ones living with the "nightmare".
The convenor of the Glen Iris based National Network of Adults and Adolescents Children who have a Mentally Ill Parents (NNAAMI). Paul Mckillop said children of mentally ill parents were the most neglected people in the mental health system.
"Children who have a mentally ill parent are not taken seriously by government or policy makers," Mr Mckillop said.
"They are the forgotten people in our generation." Mr Mckillop said it was not unusual for some of these children to describe their parent as half mother (or father) and half nightmare.
As part of National Mental Health Week Mr Mckillop hopes to raise awareness of these hidden victims of mental illness.
He said more than three million people in Australia had to cope with a mentally ill parent without help of support.
"Living in such a family is like never having a childhood," he said.
A former mental health worker, Mr Mckillop was working as a private counsellor when he noticed about 85 per cent of the people who came to him with other stress or work pressures had lived with a mentally ill parent.
"We just go back to what was the major stress in their life and people started to say, 'I'm not sure I should tell you this, but my mum was mad. She was really mad.' They were people in their 30's, 40's and 50's telling someone for the first time they had a mentally ill parent," he said.
Tom said he didn't want other children to live through what he had. However, he said life had been much better since his father left their house in March. "It was very scary when she was here," he said.
Since the start of the school year, Tom's father and a school counsellor have worked together to explain to Tom the nature his mothers illness.
"I know she can't help it and she doesn't want to behave like that" Tom said.
His father said the system treated the patient with the mental illness, while the family was left alone to cope.
The Australian National Association for Mental Health says one in 100 Australians will experience schizophrenia.
Mr Mckillop is trying to attract government spending for support groups for adults and time-out camps for teenagers with mentally ill parents.