When Mental Illness Happens To Your Family

Three years ago our son, who was just 11 years old at the time, suffered a severe and debilitating breakdown caused by mental illness halfway through his final year at primary school.

It forever changed not only his world, but the entire world of our little family.

In hindsight we could see the signs, but as they say – hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Mental health has recently become something you hear about all the time and this is a good thing. It is in your Facebook news feed, in media articles, and current affairs programs on TV. Employers are also becoming more aware of the importance of having mental health programs for their employees. We are all hearing about the importance of having good mental health and well-being – but what does this actually mean and what are we really doing about it?

For our family, anxiety moved into our lives nearly three years ago and firmly made its presence known.

To watch your otherwise healthy and happy soccer loving, lego-fanatic, caring and loving child become a shadow of their former self is something no parent ever imagines would happen to them.

An alarming 19% of Australian teenagers (that’s one in five!) are affected by mental illness and 14% of ALL Australian kids are affected.

Four times as many young people (particularly 14 and 15 year olds) present to Emergency Departments in crisis with repeated self-injury and attempted suicide compared to five years ago.

Over the last three years my husband and I have embarked on a journey for information and to find a solution. A solution that would give us back our carefree happy son. A solution that would allow him to be able to leave the house again, to attend school, to function as a productive member of society – as a productive member of our family for that matter. A solution to give back what we previously perceived as our carefree life.

What we actually found throughout our journey for information and a solution is that there isn’t a simple solution.

If it was as easy as applying a simple solution we wouldn’t be faced with the harrowing statistics of mental illness in our children and young people that we are today.

Instead, we found the importance of sharing our journey with others. Of speaking out about the relentless struggle mental illness can have on a person, not just our son, but on us as parents and the impact it has on us as a family.

We have encouraged those around us to speak out if they too are struggling. By doing this, we realised that as isolating as it feels – we aren’t alone. For many, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness and it can stop some people from getting the help they need. There are so many people who are struggling to varying degrees, but there are lots of avenues to turn to for help.

The Big Splash WAClinical experts are telling us that early prevention is crucial to developing good mental health and well-being.

They’ve also told us that schools play an important role for children struggling with their mental health. This is why I am fiercely proud and excited to be part of the team at Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation, imploring all WA schools to become part of The Big Splash WA.

This innovative program has been developed by Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation with help and direction from an amazing team of clinical experts led by Dr Caroline Goossens (Director of Clinical Services for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and Julie McCormack (Clinical Psychologist at Princess Margaret Hospital). It focuses on informing children, young people, their parents, teachers and communities about mental health and well-being through the arts.

During terms three and four 2017, The Big Splash WA is a fantastic opportunity for schools to re-engage students, carers, parents and teachers in whole school, whole-community conversations around a very serious issue we are facing today.

At the same time, it is a vibrant art event that will take place in the streets, parks and public spaces of Perth and surrounds in January through to March 2018.

A huge pod of wildly colourful dolphin sculptures painted by local artists will swim into town as part of a mass public art exhibition to raise mass awareness and valuable funds for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit at Perth Children’s Hospital

The movement to develop strong mental health and well-being in our children and young people has started. As parents, teachers, carers and members of the community, I implore you to be actively part of this movement. Be part of creating better mental health and well-being in children and adolescents.

YOU can make a difference.

Make sure your school is part of The Big Splash WA.

Find Out More

– Article written by Natasha Madams (pictured above), The Big Splash WA Schools Coordinator at Perth Children’s Hospital Foundation.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, help is available and you are not alone.

Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Help Line (Ages 5-25) – 1800 551 800
Mensline – 1300 789 978
Womensline – (08) 9223 1188

Mental Health Emergency Response Line:
Metro callers – 1300 555 788
Peel – 1800 676 822

Rural Link
Rural and remote areas – 1800 552 002

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