General News — 25 September 2012
Breaking the generational cycle

This week, a two-stage government-funded program is being rolled out to 50,000 mental health workers nationally.

Around one million Australian children have a parent with depression and/or anxiety. These children are at a higher risk of developing learning difficulties, relationship problems, substance abuse and/or low self-esteem in addition to one or both of these illnesses.

Family Focus, an evidence-based public health intervention program developed by COPMI (the Children of Parents with a Mental Illness national initiative) is set to prevent mental health difficulties for these children.

“Depression and anxiety affects the whole family, not just the individual, and if not adequately supported, children are particularly vulnerable to developing mental health issues of their own,” said COPMI Director, Elizabeth Fudge.

The new intervention program comprises a psycho-education DVD for the family to watch together and follow up in-clinic intervention where needed.

“Negative impacts of a parent’s illness are reduced when the whole family understands and acknowledges the illness,” said Ms Fudge.

The Family Focus program builds child and family resilience by offering a shared family perspective, acceptance and understanding of the parent’s illness.

Training in the program is now underway ahead of a public awareness campaign early next year, with the support of beyondblue: the national depression and anxiety initiative.

beyondblue CEO Kate Carnell AO said the Family Focus training and DVD are great resources for health professionals to assist parents to manage their illness and to help them support their families.

“It’s important parents know how to talk to their children about how depression or anxiety affects family life and beyondblue is pleased to be supporting this program.

“We’re encouraging psychologists, psychiatrists, GPs, social workers, occupational therapists and mental health nurses to do the free online training now so they are ready to assist people when the program is publicly advertised next year”.

Family Focus was modelled on a program developed by world-leading child mental health-intervention expert, Dr William Beardslee at the Judge Baker Children’s Center, a Harvard Medical School affiliate, dedicated to improving child mental health.

“Because the risks for children of depressed parents have been recognised worldwide, several countries have implemented successful systematic national programs, based on the Family Focus approach,” said Dr Beardslee.

“These programs are effectively helping children break the cycle of depression and other mental health problems within the family,” said Dr Beardslee.

A recent review by Dr Eliane Siegenthaler* and colleagues published in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry found intervention programs like Family Focus effective in preventing disorders and symptoms.

All health professionals who work with parents with anxiety or depression can register for the no-cost Family Focus e-training program to learn how to work with the whole family to beat anxiety and depression.

“E-learning works well for professionals. The intuitive, interactive-rich content can be accessed online 24/7,” said Ms Fudge.

GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, occupational therapists and mental health nurses can register to be a Family Focus intervention facilitator at www.copmi.net.au/familyfocus.

The Children of Parents with a Mental Illness initiative is funded by the Australian Government.

Media Release: beyondblue and COPMI, 19 September 2012

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