Battling binge drinking
By ANDY PARKS
JUST about anyone working with young people is required to have a current First Aid Certificate.
But Nicqui Yazdi is working on the front line of a new initiative that in years to come might become more important.
Nicqui teaches Mental Health First Aid and says the course has been designed to become a prerequisite for anyone working with youth, as well as teachers, police, aged-care workers and any public sector staff who regularly see people suffering mental health disorders.
"It is the aid given first in a mental health situation," she said.
"What I give is information about information, what is out there, how to access services, the types of psychiatric treatment available and what works for specific disorders.
You can't just get a medication for most alcohol related illnesses, you need psychiatric intervention."
Nicqui is also a mother of two girls, aged 12 and 22, and is involved with a group of Byron Shire residents trying to find strategies to deal with the problem of teenage binge drinking.
"There is a unit (in the course) dedicated to drugs and alcohol - why people turn to drugs and alcohol, what help is out there, what effects it can have and if it helps people recognise what is going on."
The Mental Health First Aid course was designed in Australia by Dr Tony Jorm and Betty Kitchener and is now being exported to the world.
Nicqui said while peer pressure was a huge factor in a lot of teenage drinking, there were a lot of young people drinking at home alone.
"If they're suffering from depression or anxiety, often they turn to drinking as a way to combat their mental health problems and end up with a compound problem."
One in five Australians will suffer from a mental health disorder this year, and Nicqui said they are predominantly drug and alcohol related.
"Depression is a huge one related to the heavy consumption of alcohol. You feel ill because you have a hangover, but often people feel depressed because it affects serotonin levels."
Nicqui said doctors are seeing more teenagers with conditions such as Korsakoff Syndrome, a brain disorder usually associated with long term or heavy drinking.
"The frontal lobe of the brain is responsible for decision making and it's not fully developed until you are about 25. Excessive binge drinking does permanent damage in teenagers before the brain finishes forming."
Nicqui recently wrote an open letter titled 'Rites of Passage - Teenage Binge Drinking, A Right or a Wrong?' In it she says; "We seem to accept that kids have this rite of passage when it comes to drugs and alcohol. In this shire we have kids as young as 10 with serious alcohol problems. We also have a big problem amongst 13-year-old girls who are not only putting their health at risk, through excessive binge-drinking, they are also putting themselves in danger from the predators who are supplying them with alcohol."
Nicqui says talking to teenagers is the best way to help them.
"If parents of teenagers learn how to talk and listen in a non judgemental way, they are more likely to tell us about problems, let us help them, or get help for them. It's important to listen and get rid of the stigma that surrounds drug and alcohol issues."