Mental health ambassador backs government’s £6m commitment to children of alcoholics

PUBLISHED: 17:24 28 April 2018

Tod Sullivan praised the government's commitment to children of alcoholics. Picture: Nick Butcher

Tod Sullivan praised the government's commitment to children of alcoholics. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

Tod Sullivan knows first hand the lasting impact growing up with an alcoholic parent can have on a child.

Tod Sullivan speaking at the Mental Health Forum. PHOTO: Nick ButcherTod Sullivan speaking at the Mental Health Forum. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Due to the “unpredictable environment” created by his late father’s alcoholism, the 40-year-old has suffered with low self-esteem and mental health issues through much of his adult life.

Which is why, Mr Sullivan, who is Lowestoft’s first mental health ambassador, is now praising the government’s £6m initiative to help children with alcoholic parents access support and advice.

He said: “It’s amazing they are offering support and recognising what a big deal this is.”

The new measures will provide quicker access to mental health services, support for parents in addiction treatment, extra funding to identify and support at risk children and early intervention programmes to reduce the number of children needing to go into care.

Tod Sullivan speaking at the Mental Health Forum. PHOTO: Nick ButcherTod Sullivan speaking at the Mental Health Forum. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Funding for the scheme, which was announced on Monday, April 23, is coming from the Department of Health and Social care and the Department for Work and Pensions.

And local councils will have the opportunity to apply for a share of £4.5m to support their services.

Mr Sullivan hopes the money will raise awareness of the issue and allow children to open up about the daily struggles they often hide.

He said: “My dad was a high functioning alcoholic. He wasn’t out getting arrested or getting into fights.

“Most people who knew him probably wouldn’t even recognise him as an alcoholic.

“I would like to see some work done within schools to raise awareness – and training for police and teachers.

“Any addiction is fairly secretive within a family. You don’t want people to know your dad is an alcoholic, you learn to keep a secret.

“I went to the hospital numerous times with my dad due to his drinking.

“No doctor ever asked if this was something I had seen before, no teacher ever picked up on it.

“Every day people will be arrested and treated in hospital for alcohol, people need to be thinking is a family attached to this?”

Mr Sullivan believes the children should be provided with a “safe space” in which they can share their experiences.

The former mayor of Lowestoft credits the charity Nacoa – The National Association for Children of Alcoholics – with helping him open up and address his past demons.

He said children of alcoholics can often fall into a trap of “learned behaviour”.

“The idea that because my dad was an alcoholic I must become one,” he said.

“Nacoa changed my life and transformed my own view of my mental health.

“Shared experience helped me make sense of why I drove myself crazy doing things that don’t help me.”

Through telling his own story and hearing of similar ordeals Mr Sullivan was able to “make sense” of what he had been through.

The mental health ambassador also complimented the politicians who “ignored political colours and worked together” to make the funding possible.

When the project was announced earlier this week health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The consequences of alcohol abuse are devastating for those in the grip of an addiction — but for too long, the children of alcoholic parents have been the silent victims. This is not right, nor fair.

“These measures will ensure thousands of children affected by their parent’s alcohol dependency have access to the support they need and deserve.

“Some things matter much more than politics, and I have been moved by my Labour counterpart Jon Ashworth’s bravery in speaking out so honestly about life as the child of an alcoholic.

“I pay tribute to him and MPs with similar experiences across the House who have campaigned so tenaciously to turn their personal heartache into a lifeline for children in similar circumstances today.”

Across the East of England the NSPCC has seen a 19pc increase in referrals regarding child safety due to parental substance misuse. £500,000 of the package will be spent to expand helplines for children.

While a NSPCC spokesman said the measures were “a step in the right direction” he said it would need to wait and see how much support the funding actually provides.

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