Garry Thomson is a social entrepreneur who is passionate about inspiring families having spent over 25 years in the family development sector from a grassroots perspective all the way to executive management in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.
An international public speaker and author, Garry is responsible for leading and implementing Uplifting Australia’s vision for a new generation of inspired and emotionally together young men and women.
Garry is a loving father to two beautiful children and is happily married. He lives by the philosophy that success begins at home and prides himself on the loving and authentic connections he has with his family. “Our Family Connect Program has been researched by the University of Melbourne’s Positive Psychology Department, evaluated and used by thousands of Australian families and is based on four simple competencies,” says the Not-For-Profit CEO.
Becoming a father changed how you perceived emotional wellbeing within the family. Why are you so passionate about this cause?
I worked in the community support/wellbeing industry when my first child was born. When I became a parent, I wanted to use a different set of parenting values/skills to my parents who had inherited parenting issues from their parents.
The magnitude of the mental health problem in Australia is staggering. Give us some statistics.
- Currently 1 in 4 kids will have poor mental health by the age 24
- Mental Health is costing us A$60 billion/year
- By 2030 mental health will be the biggest health issue on the planet.
We’re here today because you have a ‘call to action’ you want to speak about. How can people help support your charity Uplifting Australia’?
We already have the support of some wonderful Trusts, Foundations and Corporate sponsors but we need more supporters, more help – philanthropists who want to leave a legacy.
We are gathering resources so we can take our proven program and make it accessible to all Australian families through digital assets. We want to put it on their phones and ipads to empower them to take preventative action.
At Uplifting Australia, you concentrate on preventing poor mental health rather than curing it.. but when the emotional problem is a generational one, how do you break the trend?
Our mental health is affected by both the internal world (family) and the external world (school, friends and experiences). We can’t control the external world but we can make sure our family is as supportive and positive as it can be. If the emotional wellbeing of the family unit is hurtful then children really struggle to cope with the outside world.
One of our most successful programs is called ‘Family Connect’ which is based on the four competencies and involves the entire family so everyone helps the other members to learn. This program has been researched by the Centre of Positive Psychology, University of Melbourne.
The four Competencies are: Listening (quality of listening); Positive Messaging (are your messages encouraging or are you giving critical feedback because you want the family member to live up to your expectations?); Emotional Literacy(being good at identifying and being able to talk about your feelings and validate one-another’s feelings); Accountability(realising how you impact everybody in the family and avoid being hurtful in the way you speak. Be ready to apologise and repair relationships).
Parenting is stressful at times and we’re not always at our best. Family Connect allows for this and helps us not only stay on track to good mental health but get back on track when we fall off.
At Uplifiting Australia, you believe emotional wellbeing is as important as learning to read and write for kids.. or their physical health. Why?
There’s evidenced based research which links family interaction and an individual’s success or happiness later in life, so this is important for personal as well as social success.
It’s pretty well accepted that you teach kids to read and write, or even swim – there’s even social pressure on parents to teach these skills, but not to monitor the quality of our emotional environment at home and that’s because we don’t value it as highly. Until we do, we won’t solve mental health problems.
Which other aspects of the community do you work in besides with parents and kids?
We work mainly with regular families (so not ‘complex needs’ families) but also with schools and businesses. Families are the breeding ground of our society, so we want to work at that grassroots level to improve kindness.
About ‘Uplifiting Australia’
- Uplifting Australia is a Not-For-Profit, Registered Charity. Their mission: to Improve the emotional wellbeing and resilience of children and families across Australia.
- 30,000 within the community have already benefitted.
- Our children face more challenges to their resilience, social confidence and self-esteem than any generation before them. Approximately 1 in 5 people in Australia experience symptoms of mental illness each year, and 1 in 4 of our children by the age of 24, so we want to support children and families by providing them with the skills and strategies they need to face life’s challenges and thrive.
- Uplifting Australia believes improving the emotional wellbeing and resilience of children is as important as teaching them to read and write. The evidence shows the best predictors of a child’s future happiness are the emotional wellbeing and strength of their family, the quality of their role models, and the skills they take with them on their journey through life.
- Children who relate well to their peers, can understand and manage their emotions and are good at resolving problems go on to have more successful lives.
- Prevention is the key – one in five people in Australia experience symptoms of mental illness each year and the number is increasing.
- The best predictors of a child’s future happiness are the emotional wellbeing and the strength of their family, the quality of their role models and their life skills.
- Emotional wellbeing is a skill that can be learnt and put into practice by all.
- The ‘Lift-Off’ Programs: Ready > Steady > Go; Family Connect; Teacher Training; Family HangOut; Parent Talks