It is called the hidden face of mental illness. While more than
2.5 million Australians care for someone with a mental illness, what is
not widely known is that some of those are children caring for their
In Australia, it is estimated that 23 per cent of children have a
parent with mental illness. Some of these young people take on a carer's
role, but are often not identified by traditional health services.
Despite the high risk of carers themselves developing mental illness,
the health of carers is often an afterthought.
The Schizophrenia Fellowship's award-winning ON FIRE! program is designed to meet the needs of young people whose parents or siblings are experiencing mental health issues.
ON FIRE! supports these young people by cultivating hope,
resilience and wellbeing through the provision of opportunities for fun
and friendship, strengthening life skills and providing support,
education and mentoring to help them better cope with their difficult
ON FIRE! was established by a small group of volunteers
in south-eastern Sydney who recognised the need to provide support for
young people whose families are affected by mental illness.
A National Grant from nib foundation in 2010 enabled Schizophrenia
Fellowship to formalise this grassroots program and extend its reach to
the Hunter Region, Western Sydney and Wagga Wagga.
During 2011 and 2012, the program assisted more than 100 young
carers aged 8 to 18 years, helping to reduce their sense of isolation
and promote resilience and wellbeing.
An evaluation of the program conducted by the University of Sydney
confirmed the program's success with more than 80 per cent of
participants reporting a reduction in their problems. It also showed a
reduction in the emotional difficulties experienced and an increase in
positive connections outside of their family.
In 2012, the program's future was cemented with the Federal
Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
announcing funding of $330,000 per annum to continue the ON FIRE! program.
"I feel a lot braver and stronger in myself. When mum was sick I
didn't really know what to do. I felt like I couldn't do anything. I
felt helpless but now I feel really strong and I can cope and I can
- Male participant, 13 years old
"It's really helpful and I think we appreciate it a lot because
our home lives can be tough and when we come here we can express our
feelings and we can say it in such a way where people actually
- Female participant, 14 years old