When mental illness tests a family, support makes a big difference. Print
Written by Dan Halloran   

As Mum’s ambassador, I urge you to understand
A speech at the Victorian Parliament.  Published in The Age October 30th 2000. Youth Week.

My Mum has a mental illness called schizophrenia, as well as breast cancer. I am not sure which one is worse.  But I suppose they affect the person so badly it doesn’t matter.

There have been some very hard times, but at the moment her medications are at the right level. The breast cancer is terminal. We may have only a small time left with her, she won’t see me finish school. 

Mum having schizophrenia has robbed me of a lot of time most kids would have with their mum. She was always in and out of hospital and it was very hard. Dad and I can tell when things aren't quite right. One day she was lying on the kitchen floor. When I walked in and asked what she was doing, she said she was dead and got angry.

When my mum and I used to go shopping I worried about how we would get home safely if something happened. Something that hurts me is when people use the word "schizo". But I know they don't understand. Also when people tease the quiet kids. You don't know what's happening with them at home. I had a friend at school whose mum had schizophrenia. Sometimes he didn't have any lunch. I shared mine with him. But I really try to focus on the good times and not the bad. My dad says keep it simple and to enjoy what you have because there are people who are worse off.

I think we need to get doctors and famous people into all schools and have them start talking about schizophrenia and mental health early in their lives. At my school, xxxxxx College in xxxxxx I have been working on a project with some friends. Duncan and Sam and Peter and I have called the project "something is not quite right". We visited the Mental Health Research Institute and collected information during a tour. Our project talks about the facts, but it also talks about the scary things, the hard times, the questions people have.

We have tried to make a poster that will help people understand mental illness a little better, to understand that the children and families still love the person with the illness, and the person still loves them. We also want people to know that everyone involved needs help and support when something is not quite right.

The other thing I focus on is the time I have with my mum. I try to make her laugh and make things as normal as possible. She wrote me a poem. I'd like to share it with you:

Ambassador of Youth

My son Ambassador of truth.
My son
How proud can a mother be
to see
13 years of growth
shining in his eyes?
For beyond his years
his age belies.
He is my son. My only one,
my pride and joy
from the moment he was born
into this world.
Happiness I wish for him.
Health as well.
For life is but a mere breath
in his young years.
So vast his choices to make in the vast landscape.
Imagination is the key to fulfil your dreams that spill.
Take this chance my dear,
always keep an open ear,
learn as you endeavour
to fill your role of ambassador.

Dan 13, Was a youth ambassador during Youth Week. This is an edited text of a speech he gave in that capacity at Queen's Hall in the Victorian Parliament House.

NNAAMI recognises that many young people from this background may find it extremely difficult if education regarding mental illness is talked about in schools.

It will also be more difficult if this is done without proper consultation with the young people who cope with their parents mental illness.

Dan's efforts are to be admired as he chose to broach this subject with his school mates, and also with the support of NNAAMI. Not an easy thing for any young person, who has experienced life coping with mental illness in a parent.

Although NNAAMI supports all sorts of education, the introduction of government education programs regarding mental illness in schools, without adequate support for the real hidden victims (young people who have a mentally ill parent) would be irresponsible. Without adequate supports in place, it has the potential to further isolate these young people.

It is important to firstly empower young people and others who have a mentally ill parent, and assist them to develop, manage  and organise their own support services. They can then be involved in developing their own community education and health promotion programs if they desire.

Paul Mckillop

Dan is a man full of courage. His mother Virginia, a woman who has experienced much of life. NNAAMI mourns the sad passing and loss of Dans mother Virginia. We are grateful for the poem she has left for her son Dan.  This as a testament of her love for her son. It is a gift this poem, a gift she has left for us all.
Paul Mckillop