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You're Not Alone

John Francis

John Francis, 2001-2002 Fellow, is the founder and publisher of TEARAWAY Magazine, The Voice Of New Zealand Youth.

By Dan Halloran, 17

Growing up with a parent having a mental illness is something that can be really hard. As a young kid I was full of questions about Mum's illness and why she was different to other mums.

The hardest thing wasn't being away from Mum for long periods of time, nor was it having people stare because Mum acted a little differently. The hardest thing was trying to explain to friends what was wrong with her.

For me too, it was hard to understand what was happening. Doctors would use words that were bigger than my imagination, and it was something that Mum didn't like talking about.

Dad was always there for me, and we both worked together through the hard times, learning by our experiences. He told me at the most basic level what was wrong with Mum and for years he tried to make life as good as possible.

You couldn't really predict or plan things for the next day, let alone hours in advance.

The greatest mum

As I grew older I learnt that she really was the greatest mum, the most caring and loving person anyone could imagine. It's just that her illness was not letting her shine and express herself.

It wasn't all gloom and doom though. As a family we enjoyed many times together, when Mum had the correct medication and we were able to do the normal things a family should be able to do.

However, for a long time in my life, from about the age of eight onwards, Mum wasn't living with us. Even though we still loved her and she loved us, things just became too difficult.

Due to the large amounts of medication given to keep things under control she spent hour after hour in her small apartment in bed.

As a few years passed, phone calls and letters didn't seem enough. Then Mum finally began to win her life-long battle with schizophrenia and we slowly started to reunite, seeing her once a week.

One last wish

After some time Mum moved back home with us because she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer.

She was told there was no cure and to enjoy the last few remaining years of her life. It hit us all very hard and almost seemed unfair.

Mum battled for months and months with the cancer and lost her fight on June 13th, 2002, four hours short of Dad's 50th birthday.

Just before Mum died she told us both that she would love to see something done to help families dealing with mental illness.

The book, You're Not Alone, was our way to answer Mum' s last wish. We wanted to make it easier for parents or relatives to explain mental illness to their children so they wouldn't have to suffer and go through the things we did.
In writing the book I visited a group I used to go to when Mum was sick. The CHAMPS group was for kids who lived with a parent who had a mental illness. They'd often go on camping trips and holidays.

With a lot of help and ideas from them the book was published in nine months.

Seek help from others

As a result of living with Mum and her illness, I learnt that many people are in fact affected by mental illness at some time in their lives, be it a family member, close friend or themselves.

For whatever reason, not all families are indeed as perfect as it seems on the outside.

I've discovered that it's important not to bottle things up inside. Try and talk about your problems because there are people out there who know what you're going through.

Seeing someone you love having their life turned upside-down can be a very frightening experience.

Since Mum's death I've been able to look at life in a new way. I've learnt not to complain about the small things.

Seeing Mum dying of cancer and in so much pain, yet never complaining, inspired me.

Find out more
• Youthline: 0800 376 633


What is it like to live with someone who is sometimes mentally unwell? Australian Dan Halloran's mother had schizophrenia.

Dan has written a book based on his experiences, to help young children in the many families who go through similar stuff.

The book, You're Not Alone: a SANE guide to mental illness for children, has sold 30,000 copies. For your copy, email Emma at Expect to pay $AU9 plus postage.

This article would not have been possible without the support of the Lion Foundation: Thanks!

Copyright 2004, Used with permission from TEARAWAY Magazine.

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