Daren McMullen

Meet our newest Ambassador Darren McMullen

Feel the Magic is pleased to welcome Darren McMullen as a proud Ambassador.

You may recognise Darren from ‘The Voice Australia’, ‘House Husbands’ or ‘Sea Change’.

As a mental health advocate, Darren noticed the link between mental health issues, suicide, and grief. We are thrilled to have Darren on board where he will be volunteering at Feel the Magic camps and events throughout the year.

Darren recently sat down for a chat with some of our Feel the Magic campers. He shared a bit about himself, some of his experiences of mental health issues and grief, plus his passion to support Feel the Magic to help grieving kids heal.

What is something we may not know about you?

I am originally from Scotland and moved here when I was a teenager. I have lived all over the world, spent much of the last 10 years in America and have been here since the start of COVID.

I am a secret Disney fan and dream of being on Broadway one day. I’d love to do that. I love Formula 1 racing and I’m a massive tennis fan.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Not an actor but an astronaut! But I soon realised, thanks to my teacher at the time, that my maths wasn’t strong enough to be an astronaut.

What has brought you to Feel the Magic?

I have lost friends to suicide and supported many more as they struggled with mental health issues. And I realised many of these friends had lost their parents when they were young.

What I love about Feel the Magic is that you are helping kids and teens to live with their grief in a healthy way.

It was a no brainer. This is such a special charity where the money raised is used to make a difference at the ground level. It just felt right.

Many people would know you from ‘The Voice Australia’ and you have a spent nearly two decades working across prime-time networks in Australia, the UK, and US.

Why now become an Ambassador for Feel the Magic?

The reason why I got into this industry in the first place was to help people or to give a voice to people who didn’t have a voice. I am privileged to be able to get to people through the medium of entertainment. My goal from a young age, was always to make a difference in the world and to help people who are less fortunate than me.

I have a great association with Feel the Magic. The fact that you support children and are helping to mitigate mental health issues for people growing up is something that is close to me having lost friends to suicide and witnessed the effects of grief.

I am looking forward to spreading the word about Feel the Magic, meeting more campers, and helping to raise awareness of such an important children’s grief education program.

We know Darren will have an amazing impact on helping Feel the Magic support more grieving kids and teens by raising awareness. Welcome to the team Darren!

National Volunteer Week

This year National Volunteer Week is held on the 16th – 22nd of May and is Australia’s largest annual celebration of volunteering. Volunteering brings people together, it builds communities, and creates a better society for everyone. National Volunteer Week is a chance for us at Feel the Magic to recognise the vital work of our volunteers and to say thank you.  

Feel the Magic exists to help children and families with their grieving process by facilitating free programs and camps, as well as fostering a community of people. The literature suggests that there is a significant benefit to feeling supported and connected, particularly when faced with challenging life events, such as the death of a loved one. Loneliness and inadequate social support among bereaved individuals raise concerns about the risks to emotional, mental, and physical health for grievers. Without our dedicated volunteers at Feel the Magic, it wouldn’t be possible for us to deliver the support services we offer. For more information on the specific programs and camps we offer, click here.   

Benefits of volunteering 

Volunteering offers vital support to people in need, worthwhile causes, and a sense of community, however, the individual benefits of volunteering can be enormous. The right volunteering opportunity can help you connect with a community, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Research findings have identified that giving to others can even help protect your mental and physical health, and provide a sense of purpose to the volunteer. 

  • Volunteering often helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, depression and anxiety.  
  • The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being.  
  • Being helpful to others provides immense enjoyment, and your role as a volunteer can give you a sense of pride and identity, ultimately increasing self-confidence.  
  • Doing good for others and the community may provide you with a natural sense of accomplishment.  
  • Helping others triggers the reward pathway in the brain known as the mesolimbic system. The release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and vasopressin give you a buzz sometimes known as the ‘helpers high’.  
  • No matter your age or life situation, volunteering is a means to provide a sense of purpose, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life. 

Volunteering is a way to feel a sense of belonging, catch feel-good emotions, embrace your passions and open the door to life satisfaction. A big thank you to our existing volunteers for your unwavering commitment and dedication to Feel the Magic. If you are interested in volunteering with us at Feel the Magic, click here for more information.

5 ways to help a child grieving a death by suicide

Use language that is age-appropriate and easily understandable

It is important to recognise that the death of a loved one is difficult for children and teens to comprehend, although suicide is particularly confusing and very difficult to understand. It is important to talk openly about suicide in an age-appropriate manner and provide honest facts to them. If you are unsure how to answer a question or how to talk to a child in an age-appropriate manner, it is best to seek advice from either a professional or family and friends.

Encourage Remembering

Sharing memories, telling stories, asking questions and establishing rituals are all healthy ways for children and adolescents to remember their loved one. This is particularly important as some adolescents will encounter social stigma, making them feel uncomfortable or unwilling to talk about their lost loved one. Some children may also benefit from creating a memory book or box, writing stories or poems, or creating an artwork.

Give comfort, hugs and reassurance

Reassure the child that is grieving that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. Some children or adolescents may worry that expressing certain emotions or asking certain questions will upset others. Reassure them that it is okay to ask questions, express their emotions and grieve in the way that works for them.

Some children and teens bereaved by suicide may be particularly insecure and worried about abandonment, leading to them showing signs of clinginess, fear and less confidence. It is important to be patient with anxiety around separation and continuously provide them with comfort and love. It is also important to reassure the child that they did not cause the death, as they may be asking themselves “Did I cause this to happen?” and feel guilty or responsible for the death.

It is best to be honest

It is important for a child to be told the truth about the death of their loved one in a safe and nurturing space by a main caregiver. At some point the truth will come out and it is best for them to be told the truth in an age-appropriate way. It may be helpful to ask the child what they think “being dead” means and correct any misunderstandings they may have. Avoid using statements that can be easily misunderstood such as “gone to sleep”, as this can cause the child to experience anxiety about sleeping. Remember, it is never too late to tell the child the truth.

Listen without judgement

A helpful way to support a grieving child or adolescent is to listen without judging, interpreting or evaluating. Allow open conversation and respond to the person by simply repeating what they’ve said so that they know they’ve been heard. Sometimes they may not be ready to talk, and in that case, reassure them that you are available whenever they are ready to do so. Some people may avoid talking to someone bereaved by suicide out of fear that you will use the wrong terms or that you will make the situation worse. The silence of other people may reinforce isolation, social stigma and shame that they may already be feeling.

Coping with Mother’s Day after your mum has died

For a child or teen whose mum has died, Mother’s Day can be a difficult day. As with other significant days, it can be a time when grief is brought to the surface, emotions are heightened, and it may serve as a confronting reminder that mum is no longer there. The following tips may help a bereaved child or teen navigate Mother’s Day.

  1.  Do things that remind you of your mum on Mother’s Day

Doing things that remind you of your mum on Mother’s Day can help you feel closer to your mum. Putting your mum’s favourite flowers in a vase, cooking your mum’s favourite dinner, listening to her favourite music, or doing an activity that she enjoyed or you used to do together, are different ways of remembering your mum on Mother’s Day and maintaining your connection with her.

  1. Do whatever you want on Mother’s Day without pressure or expectations

For some people, it will be a sad day, for others it may be a happy day, and some people will feel neither happy nor sad. Similarly, for some people it will be a day to remember mum, whilst others may want to avoid it. Each year, one’s feelings and desires will change and be different for everyone. It is important that you do what feels right for you. There is no right or wrong way to feel and there is no right or wrong way to spend Mother’s Day. 

  1. Make a special card in memory of your mother

In the lead up to Mother’s Day, the shops and Mother’s Day stalls at schools may be overwhelming for children bereaved by the death of their mum. Even if your mum has passed away, you still have a mum. Buying a card allows you to think about your mother and connect with her. Writing a message to her, whatever you want to say, is a beautiful way of expressing your love for your mum. You could write an update about your life, or share a special memory you have together, or simply talk about how you’re feeling. This process might make the shops and Mother’s Day stalls at school a little easier. Children and teens might also want to celebrate other important women in their life on Mother’s Day, such as an aunty, grandmother or caregiver.

  1. Talk about your mum

Mother’s Day can be a good opportunity to talk about your mum to family, friends, or people who knew your mum. Talking about your own memories with your mum or hearing about other people’s memories is a beautiful way to remember her on Mother’s Day. You might learn things you didn’t know before, such as what she was like as a child.

  1.  Avoid social media on Mother’s Day

For adolescents in particular, it may feel like they are bombarded with social media posts of friends and their mums. If you think that seeing other people’s Mother’s Day posts might cause you distress, try to limit your use of social media on Mother’s Day.

Childhood Bereavement Prevalence

Each year in Australia, around 1 in 20 children will experience the death of a parent before age 18. To put this statistic into perspective, at least one child in every school classroom is grieving the loss of a parent. Suicide is the leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 49 years old in Australia, with many of these instances resulting in a child having to mourn the loss of a parent or sibling.  

The death of a parent is an exceptionally distressing event for a child, one that can have profound implications for their future development and wellbeing. Research shows that childhood bereavement causes disruptions in relational, academic, and occupational functioning later in life, and is associated with greater risk of harmful coping, mental health disorders, substance abuse, and suicide. One study revealed that bereaved children are more than twice as likely than non-bereaved children to display impairments in functioning at school and in the home. Childhood bereavement by suicide is complex, with suicide-bereaved children likely to experience anger, shame, withdrawal, guilt, and post-traumatic stress symptoms.  

In Australia, official statistics concerning childhood bereavement were last reported in 2010 and the current prevalence of childhood bereavement is not well understood. As a result, bereaved youth are an often-overlooked group for whom services are under-resourced. As a society, we need to ensure each of the roughly 5% of grieving children and adolescents do not embark on a journey through life feeling helpless, ill-equipped, stigmatized, and isolated. Services and resources that promote resilient adaptation, growth, and connection to social support can help prevent adverse outcomes. It is crucial that we ascertain the scale of childhood bereavement, spread awareness, and ensure funding for grief support services that can help tackle this important social and public health issue in Australia.

Feel the Magic offer free camps, programs and resources to help grieving kids heal. As research demonstrates, timely and appropriate intervention is essential to reduce the mental health challenges associated with childhood grief. Keep an eye out if you are interested in reviewing our 1 in 20 White Paper, Taking Notice of Childhood Grief. It addresses our current understanding of the prevalence of childhood grief worldwide and within Australia. It also includes a call to action for routine data collection in service of gaining up-to-date prevalence and incidence statistics around childhood bereavement in Australia.  

TRANSITIONING TO ADULTHOOD AS A GRIEVING ADOLESCENT

Transitioning to adulthood as a grieving adolescent

Adolescence is a time of significant change in the realms of physical, psychological and social domains. Adolescents that are transitioning to adulthood will commonly experience various challenges throughout their journey. For grieving adolescents, these challenges are often intensified and may be more difficult to navigate. Adolescents express and process grief in a variety of ways depending on various factors, including the context of bereavement, support systems, age and personality. The support of a parent, guardian or mentor is essential to guide bereaved adolescents and help them develop coping skills to help them navigate this challenging period.

Ordinarily, adolescents transitioning to adulthood may be led through scaffolded rites of passage. For bereaved adolescents, their transition period may lack guidance and stability. Thus, developing structure and routine is extremely important for adolescents to cope with the many changes throughout their journey. Developing structure for a bereaved adolescent will require careful consideration of their unique circumstances. Some bereaved adolescents may be more reliant or dependent on those around them, whilst others may have taken on larger responsibilities and assumed empty roles. No matter the circumstances, the transition will be difficult, and it is important to develop structure to enable both independence and stability.

Another beneficial tip to supporting bereaved adolescents in transitioning to adulthood is establishing clear boundaries together. Boundaries can help to foster trust and respect, and they are best established through active listening, open communication and negotiation. The process of establishing boundaries together will develop independence and informed decision-making, ensuring your adolescent feels safe and supported. Be aware that adolescents are more likely to be open and collaborative in setting boundaries if the conversation feels like a respectful negotiation. Maintaining an open line of communication is essential, especially throughout the time period where change is occurring. Bottling up feelings can be detrimental, so it is important to provide them with the space and permission to express their emotions and feelings.

It is important to ensure that adolescents bereaved by a significant loss have an adequate support system. They may feel the overwhelming loss of someone who helped shape their fragile self-identity. A counsellor, trusted adult, teacher, friends or close family members are some examples of individuals that are key figures that make up a support system for an adolescent. It is also important to consider that adolescents may move away from their existing support network, which will lead to them being geographically distant from their family and may result in changes to their friends. This change may be particularly challenging for bereaved adolescents as they are surrounded by different people in a different environment. It is important that adolescents maintain the support of caring, open, honest and loving adults over the period of transitioning to adulthood.

One of the most important ways to help a grieving adolescent transition to adulthood is offering them empathy and compassion. It is undeniable that the young adult years are a time of growth, change and challenge. Navigating this period whilst coping with a major loss can have a profound effect on a young person’s social functioning, physical and mental health, and development. Showing an adolescent that they are supported, understood and cared for as they embark on a journey of transition to adulthood is crucial.