Nov 27, 2017
Children of parents with mental illnesses launch support group
TOKYO - People raised by parents with mental illnesses are launching a group in Japan to share their experiences and support each other through their mutual difficulties in understanding their parents' diseases.
Nursing professionals for their part are publishing a book of memoirs by such children in a bid to let the public know that support is needed.
A child's development and life are greatly affected if one or both parents suffer from mental illness, which brings various hardships for the children in adulthood. But it is only recently that the need to support children of parents with mental disorders has become a public issue, according to Keiko Yokoyama, a professor of psychiatric nursing at Saitama Prefectural University, who has engaged in a range of support programs for families of such people.
The group, called Kodomo Pia (Children Peer), is scheduled to be officially launched in late January, starting its activities after Yokoyama took a cue from mutual support programs for families offered by the Community Mental Health & Welfare Bonding Organization.
The nonprofit organization, known as COMHBO, has hosted study events for families of patients with mental illnesses. While COMHBO mainly targets parents of the mentally handicapped, Yokoyama saw the need to help the children of such people and started organizing events for those children in 2015 with other supporters.
At the events, participants talk about their experiences and pour out their feelings, looking back on their past -- from early childhood, junior and senior high school days until after reaching adulthood.
"I witnessed participants recovering their authentic self they had been oppressing," said Yokoyama.
During a series of such events for children of the mentally ill, more supporters ranging from their 20s to 50s came to play managerial roles, leading to a decision to launch Kodomo Pia next January.
Ayuna Kobayashi, a 27-year-old deputy leader of the group, said that her mother developed schizophrenia, suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations, when she was attending elementary school, although her mother could not admit to her illness. Being afraid that nobody would come to help, "I grew up without learning how to depend on others," Kobayashi said.
Kobayashi attended a nursing school and gradually developed an understanding of her mother's illness. Then her feelings toward her mother changed and Kobayashi started doing what she could for her mother bit by bit, resulting in her mother's symptoms changing for the better.
After getting acquainted with others in similar situations at Kodomo Pia events, she was able finally to stand face-to-face with herself, Kobayashi said. "I want to tell (them) 'you are not alone'."
Taku Sakamoto, a 26-year-old psychiatric social worker who heads Kodomo Pia, devoted himself to taking care of his mother during his school days as she suffered from depression and panic disorder.
After taking a supporter job, Sakamoto realized that family members of mentally ill people do not have to bear the whole brunt of taking care of them. "There are some things I could figure out through connections with my peers. I wish to be of help to others, especially the younger generation, by being out in public and speaking out," Sakamoto said.
The number of patients with mental illnesses has been on the rise, totaling some 3.92 million in a 2014 survey by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The number of such patients getting married and having children will also increase.
Given the circumstances, Yokoyama compiled the experiences of nine participants in the study events into a book as part of efforts to inform people about the situation these children are really in.
The 224-page book, edited jointly with Masako Kageyama, associate professor of public health and nursing at Osaka University, will be published on Dec. 1 by Akashi Shoten Co.
Kageyama said, "It is an improvement that the necessity of support for children is drawing attention, but many supporters are still concerned about only preventing child abuse by (mentally ill) parents."
"It may be more important to help realize their natural hopes as human beings of becoming a parent at as early a stage as possible," she said.
Study events for people raised by parents suffering mental disorders have so far been held in Tokyo. With the launch of Kodomo Pia, its members hope to expand these activities nationwide.
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