Suicide risk 'ignored' Print
Written by JULIE DOYLE   
A DEAKIN University psychologist is shocked the State Government's Suicide Prevention Taskforce has ignored the high risk of suicide by children of mentally ill parents Burwood campus psychologist Alina Holgate is the secretary of the National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent Her mother is schizophrenic.

The network has more than 300 members aged 10 to 60. Ms Holgate said the network prepared a detailed submission for the taskforce but all its recommendations were ignored.

She said the taskforce failed to recognise children of mentally ill parents as a high risk group for suicide despite research showing this group was eight times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.

The network receives no government funding and last year struggled to cope with more than 700 inquiries from health professionals and children of mentally ill parents.

Ms Holgate said, despite the obvious need, the taskforce ignored the group's recommendation for a funded telephone counselling service.

"It's a further reflection of the tendency for professionals to ignore the needs of this group," she said.

 "Again they have focused on the problems of the mentally ill rather than those seeking to help them."

Ms Holgate said the children of mentally ill parents often had to take on adult responsibilities.

She said this isolated children from their peers and affected their ability to develop relationships in adult life.

"The children have to take on responsibilities beyond their years, such as cooking and looking after younger siblings. Professionals encourage children to take on these responsibilities and it places an enormous burden on them," she said.

"They tend to have lower self-esteem as adults, don't know how to have fun and are more prone to anxiety and depression."

Ms Holgate said the network was the only existing support service for children of mentally ill parents.

She has asked Health Minister Rob Knowles to address their needs. "Mr Knowles says the needs are adequately met by existing services," she said.

"Something like a telephone counselling line is very cheap but enormously helpful because people in need know help is only a phone call away"

Ms Holgate said the network gave members an opportunity to speak openly to people who understood what they were going through.

Spokeswoman for Health Minister Rob Knowles, Serena Williams, said the State Government had already committed $8 million to mental health services for young people.

Ms Williams said the taskforce recommendations had recognised the link between mental health and suicide, although mental illness and supporting young people had been dealt with separately.