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Putting on a smile

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg

Child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says more programs and services are needed to address the plight of kids whose parent or sibling suffers from mental illness.

Up to a quarter of children in such a situation experience teasing or bullying, he said, because a parent with a mental illness is often a noticeable point of difference in the school environment.

“Many of these kids have a negative view of themselves, their environment and the future,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

Carers NSW are offering a free three-day program to help young Australians in the Randwick and Botany areas who have a familial relationship with someone suffering mental illness.

The SMILES program targets those who have a mother, father, brother or sister experiencing a mental health problem, including bipolar, schizophrenia, depression or borderline personality disorder. SMILES, which will run from January 22-24, will engage young people between the ages of eight and twelve in art, music and games.

Carers NSW CEO Elena Katrakis said: “Through the SMILES program, young carers will experience the sharing, learning and building of existing coping skills and gain the opportunity to form new friendships and networks of support, knowledge and experience.”

The Australian Government Department of Social Services are funding the program, as part of the Carers NSW Mental Health Respite.

Carers NSW hope that the program will decrease feelings of isolation in those with family members who have a mental illness. They aim to boost self esteem and encourage self expression in those who attend.

A previous SMILES participant said they had “a brilliant time taking part in the program” and learned a lot.

Dr Carr-Gregg said this type of program is important in relieving kids from their carer responsibilities, giving them the opportunity to be active and make friends.

“When a parent has a mental illness, there is a pressure on the young person to spend a lot of time at home, and they rarely get the chance to spend time with peers because of their caring responsibilities,” he said.

“So having a mother or father with a mental illness is actually a major challenge in terms of them completing the developmental tasks of adolescence.”

The SMILES program will take place at Eastlakes shopping centre from January 22 to 24. Bookings essential: contact Carers NSW.

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