Saturday, July 10, 2010


It is widely recognised throughout the Western world that heart disease and cancer are our biggest killers. However, in reality, an equally large burden on our society today really belongs to mental health problems because these are the problems that we live with long-term. They profoundly affect our ability to carry out our everyday duties, to go to work or school, our relationships with our friends, our families. In fact, all areas of our lives and those around us, can be acutely affected.
Myths and Misconceptions
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions that exist about mental illnesses and there are still many stigmas associated with these problems, yet mental health problems are common. Mental health problems now affect 1 in 5 Australian adults in any given year, in our teenagers the number is closer to 1 in 4. 18 is the median age of onset of all mental health problems - this means that half of all the mental health problems that will ever be, are already present in those teenage years.
Unfortunately, a lot of mental illness in youth goes undiagnosed for long periods of time. One of the main reasons for this is because it is difficult to recognise the difference between normal childhood behaviours and the signs of someone who is suffering from a mental illness. Many parents just start to see their children as being difficult or moody. Mood swings can be written off as a side effect of entering puberty or starting high school, but it can also indicate the onset of more serious mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia.
There is so much happening in those adolescent years, that it can be hard to keep up with what is going on with our kids. There are dramatic changes in body shape and behaviours, confused thinking where their thoughts can speed up or even slow down, there is emerging sexuality, normal curiosity, the desire to become a grown-up, risk taking behaviours, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, dieting, peer pressure, to name a few. Parents can become so swamped with these changes and not realise that some of these changes can also be early indications of emerging mental health problems.
Many adults do not know how to talk with young people about their problems, in a non-judgemental way. In particular, how to ask those things that are really hard to ask, such as thoughts about suicide. For parents these conversations can be really difficult and quite confronting. Another thing that adults talking with youth are not very good at, is listening. We are so used to telling them what to do and how it is, that we don't listen enough to hear what they they have to say. Parents are notorious for telling teens to just get over it and on with it. So kids start to bottle it up out of shear frustration and they stop communicating and withdraw.
Another thing about teens and mental health, is that they think that they should be able to deal with their own problems and they don't often seek help for fear of being labelled as crazy. A lot of teens also think that there's nothing out there that can help them. So they fall through the cracks. Very few of them seek help for medical problems and even fewer for mental health problems.
First Aid for young minds - how adults can help

There are many things that we can do as adults to care for the mental health of our youth, and the first step is to better educate ourselves about the problems that effect them. Youth Mental Health First Aid training is a very good place to start. The Youth Mental Health First Aid courses were developed, so that adults can learn how to recognise when problems with young people arise and know how to respond to them appropriately. There are also parenting courses available and a great many support groups.
There are a lot of self-help strategies that have proven benefits, including relaxation therapy, yoga breathing exercises, anxiety management classes and mindfulness training, to name a few. There are enormous amounts of information and resources available on the internet, through your local library, community health and doctors surgeries. There is also a great deal of professional help available, if you know where to go.
The Australian Government recognised how serious a problem mental health was a few years ago and has sunk enormous amounts of money into making mental health services more available to the general Australian population. All Australians are now able to access up to 12 sessions a year with a psychologist, subsidised by Medicare. All that you need to do is to go and talk with your GP and request a referral.  
Early intervention is the key to earlier recovery. Unfortunately, many people still do not know what to look for and what to do about it and many mental illnesses go unrecognised for long periods. Because often no-one picks up the signs and signals of these mental health problems in young people and the longer they go untreated, the more compounded the problems become. Depression leads to anxiety and visa versa, then substance abuse becomes a coping mechanism, and before you know it, there is a major problem of co-morbidity, where someone may have a number of mental health problems that will all need addressing.
Eating disorders are one of these compounded problems and they are on the rise. They can lead to very serious and sometimes deadly medical problems as well. One of the big myths about eating disorders is that they only effect young females. This is predominately so for Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa but it is also now being seen more in males. However, binge-eating disorder, which has the largest number of sufferers by far, does not discriminate and almost as many males as females suffer from it. It also affects people of all ages.
Psychosis and young people

If you were to look at a graph of mental health problems, you would see peaks at certain ages. One of the largest peaks is substance use between the ages of 16 and 18 - we are mainly talking about alcohol, although this is also the age where they are beginning to use drugs and in males this is also the age where you see a huge spike in suicides. In mid to late adolescence, substance abuse is their biggest problem.
There is definitely an association between drug use and mental health problems, particularly seen in cannabis use and schizophrenia. However many of the other common street drugs also cause psychosis in the short-term and serious problems with anxiety and depression in the long-term.  
Psychosis is a general term used to describe a mental health problem in which a person has lost some contact with normal reality. There are severe changes and disturbances in thinking, emotion and behaviour. Psychosis can profoundly disrupt a person's day to day life. The most common psychotic illnesses are schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (which used to be known as manic depressive disorder), psychotic depression, schizo-affective disorder and drug-induced psychosis.

Without doubt, the psychotic illness that comes with the most serious and far ranging issues, is schizophrenia. Three quarters of sufferers of schizophrenia are aged between 16 and 25 when they have their first episode. It is not uncommon for young people with schizophrenia to go undiagnosed for a year or more, as this is one of those illness where many of the behaviours and emotional responses can be mistaken for normal childhood behaviours. It holds the highest risk of suicide of all mental health disorders and an alarming mortality rate - 10% of people who suffer from schizophrenia will die by suicide.
The first episode of psychosis can be an extremely horrifying experience, particularly for a young person. There are many, many symptoms that can be associated with psychosis, and these illnesses effect everyone differently. However most commonly they may involve extreme distortions in thinking, delusions, hallucinations, strange feelings, elevated or deflated moods and severe changes in behaviour patterns.
Routines disappear and the ability to care for oneself is often profoundly effected. Concentration is quite often acutely disabled, particularly if they are hearing voices or seeing things that don't exist. Under these circumstances it is best to be accepting of their reality, but do not claim that these things are real for you.
When trying to help someone who is suffering from psychosis, the best practice is to behave in a calm and positive manner. Make sure that you are in a safe position and never try to manhandle them or force your opinions on them. If there is a risk of harm, call 000.
Risk of harm

People who suffer from psychosis are at times at risk of harming themselves and on occasions others. However the biggest risk is of the sufferers themselves being harmed by others out of fear and a lack of understanding. There are so many myths that abound about the dangerous psychotic, that have been perpetuated by the media over the years, that the stigmas associated with psychotic illnesses are a real problem in our society. People who suffer from mental illnesses deserve our respect and our understanding.
Psychotic illnesses are able to be treated and many people make a complete recovery. It is best to first consult with your GP, who can then refer you on for appropriate treatment. In a crisis situation call the Mental Health Access Line - 1300 369 968, the local Mental Health Crisis Team, your nearest hospital, or emergency services 000.
In most areas now there are support groups for all the various types of psychotic illness and also parent and carer support groups. These are often very helpful to both sufferers and family members.
The most important point to remember is that if you feel that a young person may be suffering from a mental illness, talk with them non-judgmentally, listen to them and offer to help them, because the earlier they receive the help, the faster they will recover and better the outcome will be.
For both Adult and Youth MHFA courses in the Northern Rivers region contact: 
Nicqui Yazdi, Director of the MindRight Institute, on 0402013177 or email

Mental Health First Aid program

Betty Kitchener and Prof. Tony Jorm from the ORYGEN Research Centre, University of Melbourne, developed the world’s first Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course in Australia in 2001. MHFA is now available in 15 countries and as of 2007, Youth MHFA was launched in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and America. 2007 also saw the introduction of Indigenous MHFA. In May 2008, the Adult MHFA E-Learning program was launched to enable those that are either disadvantaged by distance or circumstances to participate in learning about Mental Health First Aid. In early 2010, the new 2nd Edition Adult and Youth MHFA programs were launched across Australia. 
Mental Health First Aid is a training program for members of the public over the age of 18 years, in how to support someone in a mental health crisis situation or who is developing a mental health disorder. Its’ role is to promote first aid - the initial help that is given before professional help is sought and to increase literacy about mental health problems.
The program increases knowledge, reduces stigma and, most importantly, increases supportive actions. It even helps the mental health of first-aiders. Mental Health First Aid training can assist in early intervention and in the on-going community support of people with mental illnesses. It is particularly useful for people employed in areas which involve increased contact with mental health issues and for parents and carers of people with mental illnesses.
The courses teach the signs, symptoms, causes and evidence-based treatments (both self-help and professional help), for the common mental health problems of depression, anxiety disorders, psychosis and substance use disorder. It also addresses the possible crisis situations arising from these mental health problems and steps to help.
The crisis situations include a person who is feeling suicidal: a person having a panic attack or acute stress reaction; a person who has had a recent traumatic experience; a person who is acutely psychotic and perceived to be threatening; and a person who has overdosed. In addition the Youth MHFA course also covers the more youth specific areas of eating disorders and non-suicidal self Injury (self-harm).
Although crises are dramatic consequence of mental health problems, it is better to intervene early before such crises develop. The MHFA program therefore emphasises the need for early intervention for mental disorders as they are developing. This is particularly important with adolescents, as most mental health problems start in the teenage years.
For further information on the Mental Health First Aid program MHFA and go to

Friday, July 9, 2010


This week has been a big one for me. With the news on Wednesday that my beautiful young cousin Roger chose to take his own life, I have been on a journey back into my childhood memories. The picture I keep seeing in my head, is the beautiful little blonde boy who thought I was the ant's pants. The sweet little smile and his cute little ways. Of course he had grown up and was 30 years old, but for some reason, my mind keeps taking me back to when he was little, before he got sad.

Suicide is such a terrible event in a family. Everyone shares some kind of guilt... "what if" is a part of every second thought. Suicide leave us with so many questions unanswered... so many thoughts of "why". Some people are always going to chose to die like this and nothing that anyone might have done can change this. Others that have the thought of suicide, get help and find their way out of those thoughts. But once it is done, there is nothing more to be said, it is done.

The worst thing about a suicide, is that the family is left behind to pick up the pieces. Grief is the hardest of all emotions to deal with. It rips at our hearts, makes us feel empty, hopeless and helpless and leaves us with nowhere to turn to make it go away. It creates a big black hole in our souls and strips our minds of all thoughts of joy or happiness. All this is normal, we are meant to feel like this. But for a time it is all that there is, intense nothingness!

I have had a lot of experience with tragic deaths and way too many suicides for one person to experience in one lifetime and it never gets any easier. But one thing I have learned is that we are never alone with our grief, it is something that all who loved that person share, differently maybe, but we all feel the loss. Some find no respite from this loss and it lingers for a long time. Others talk about it and share their feelings and find a way out of feeling so empty and alone. It is a good thing to share the grieving process and help each other through this hard time. Family therapy can help too. There are support groups in most towns and many other places that specialise in helping families and individuals come to terms with suicide or other types of loss.

Suicide is not something to keep a secret. It is something that we all need to have an understanding of. We all need to know how to ask the questions that count if we think that someone might be at risk. And if we are too scared to ask those questions, we should involve others that might be able to help. My Uncle thought my cousin was at risk and he did the right thing, he took him to a doctor the day before he died. Unfortunately they tried to get him in to see a psychiatrist, but no-one was available to see him that day. But at least my Uncle saw the signs and tried to help and he stayed with him and tried to make sure he was safe. My cousin was probably always going to chose to die, but as with pretty much everyone that dies by suicide, he gave off signals and signs and my Uncle picked them up and acted on them. It is sad that even though he did this, my cousin suicided the next day, but I hope that my Uncle can remember that he at least tried to help.

My family has a big week ahead... we are burying Roger on Tuesday... but we will be doing it together, we will be talking about our grief and we will be watching out for each other and that is all we can do.

Suicide is a permanent solution to something that is usually just a moment in time. With the right help we get over these moments and life moves on, without help too many die.

If you think someone is at risk, ask the questions, listen for the answers and do what you can to help.

Life is short... let's make it matter...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Alcohol-fuelled violence and stupid behaviour...

With regard to the assorted articles on pages 6 & 7 of the Northern Star on Saturday, February 13, 2010:

When it comes to all the articles that are being published in the newspapers at the moment in this region about alcohol-fuelled violence and it's consequences, I think we are really missing the point when the conversation within these articles turns to how best to promote Byron Bay as a tourist destination. The thing that is sorely missing in these types of articles is the fact that stupid behaviour is what leads to these problems and behaviours are something we learn from a very young age and primarily at home.

It is a great idea for the business community to voice its' 'support to curb Byron's party image', but the idea of what is best for businesses to be promoting, such as Byron's beautiful and natural assets and bringing back families and cultured tourists, completely ignores the real reasons that these problems with alcohol and violence happen here in the first place. Tourism itself along with complacent parenting practices is what has wreaked the most havoc here in Byron Bay, not just alcohol.

However, because alcohol has been such a big a part of the culture of our country ever since white man first came to its' shores, it is now an ingrained problem. The use of alcohol has been accepted, encouraged, even passed down from generation to generation as part of good old aussie culture. A drink after a hard day's yakka, a reward for every milestone reached, even a rite of passage for young people reaching adulthood. The fact is, that our young people today see drinking alcohol as their 'right'. Unfortunately, the largest consumers and abusers of alcohol in our country are under the age of 18, not yet adults, or even legally allowed to drink it and because they have such a huge 'problem' with it, their 'right' to a fully functioning brain is the thing that is most acutely and profoundly effected.

What we really need to be passionately doing as a community is teaching our young people early on that drinking to the point of being drunk and badly behaved is unacceptable. Changing the drinking hours at the hotels and clubs isn't going to change this. This change has to start at home. Making it harder for young people to take up drinking in the first place, is a good really good place to start. If parents really understood the long-term implications of early introduction to alcohol, they would do anything in their power to stop their young from taking it up. Or, at least they should. But most parents these days turn a blind eye to their children's drinking and seem to think that they will just grow out of it. Some of them even buy the alcohol for their kids, with the stupid belief that they can teach them responsible drinking practices at home.

Teaching young people responsible drinking at home, is irresponsible. This actually tells them that drinking is ok. It isn't. We have set up laws in our country regarding legal drinking age for a reason. These reasons are well thought out and they are scientifically backed. Alcohol damages the brain and in the case of teenagers it permanently retards the growth of important areas of the brain and wires it up for addictions and serious behavioural and mental health problems. If we want to curb the problems associated with alcohol-fuelled violence and stupid behaviour, we need to start in the home and with the parents. In fact all adults also need to understand that supplying alcohol to minors is illegal and why it is.

As a community, we need to start paying less attention to the needs of the tourists and be more interested in attending to our own local young people and their needs. We need to cater to their requirements for safe, clean socialising opportunities and keep them away from the badly behaved partying tourists who come here. We need to get behind those organisations and venues within the community that provide the services that support our young people. We need to put our money and our energy into trying to keep our young people educated and safe. And most of all, we need to be responsible with our own choices and our own behaviours, because our young mimic us.

On another note, allowing multi-national liquor superstores such as Dan Murphy's into our town, will only add fuel to this fire. The availability of cheap alcohol is the number one reason behind alcohol-fuelled violence and every other crime associated with alcohol. It is also one of the main reasons that young people take up drinking, besides boredom. It is time that the community and particularly the parents of our young people, became proactive. We need to stop Dan Murphy's coming to town and we need stop being so complacent as parents and adults and start paying attention to our children's needs and educate them and ourselves about the real dangers of drinking alcohol. It is also the undereducated young people that grow up to be the ones that cause the problems with alcohol related violence in the pub and clubs.

Bugger the tourists, bad behaviour starts at home.

Life is short, let's make it easier and let's make it matter...

Alcohol - Superstores and other scary things...

So it seems that alcohol is the big thing on the list of conversations I had had this week. It was the topic of my first conversations of the day yesterday and also the last and many in between. There are a lot of people talking about alcohol in Byron Bay at the moment. Why? Probably the biggest reason right now has a lot to do with the news that Woolies are putting a Dan Murphy's Superstore liquor outlet smack bang right in the middle of town. There seem to be a lot of adults excited at the thought of having this giant 1000 square metre alcohol SUPERmarket come to town and just as many totally disgusted at the thought. Personally, I sit on the side of disgust. I have spent much of my time over the last few years working hard to combat the problems associated with alcohol use and misuse, its' short-term problems and its' devastating long-term problems, particularly the mental health implications.

As the Team Leader of BUDDI-CDAT (Byron Underage Drinking & Drug Initiative - Community Drug Action Team), I have made it a priority, to try and find solutions to the problems that alcohol causes in our community, particularly among our young people.

For those that are looking forward to the arrival of a Dan Murphy's Superstore, I would like you to understand just what it is. It is MASSIVE! Imagine something 3/4 the size of Woolies, that only sells alcohol! This store will take up the entire southern end of the Woolies complex, the old Video Connection store, Crazy Clark's, Esspressohead, the pawn shop, the shoe repairs shop, the huge storage area in the corner that was Crazy Clark's warehouse (which most people wouldn't have seen), the old WaterGarden and Chocolate. This is not a small concern, it is potentially a GIANT problem.

One of the biggest problems of letting such a huge multi-national liquor outlet into Byron, is the availability of cheap alcohol. I guess this is the reason that half of our adults seem to be delighted by the thought, is that they will be able to buy their grog at the heavily discounted prices that such huge buying power allows. But when it comes to teenagers, the availability of such cheap alcohol is one of the main reasons that alcohol is such a huge problem with them. They don't have a lot of money to spend, so the cheaper the grog, the more they can have.

Another huge problem that I see with this type of superstore, is the loss of those working there being able to know where their sales are going. In the smaller bottleshops, they seem to be able to discern between those that are buying for themselves and those that are buying for the teens waiting around the corner or at home. They get to know their customers. They even seem to care enough to advise those parents that are buying on behalf of their children about such things as the Secondary Supply Laws and I have even had parents tell me that the first that they knew that this practice was illegal, was in the bottleshop staff telling them.

Another big problem that I see with Dan Murphy's, is the location. These kinds of alcohol warehouses are normally situated somewhere slightly away from town, such as in industrial areas. Not here though. Here it will be straight across the road from a kindergarten, just around the corner from two primary schools and straight next door to the cinema. What a great way to educate our kids on responsible drinking, having them watch the adults leaving Dan Murphy's with their huge slabs of grog, while the kids line up to see Harry Potter!

We don't need this superstore in Byron Bay. We already have more liquor licenses in this area that anywhere else in New South Wales. As far as Local Government Areas (LGO's) go, this area already has 351 liquor licenses per 100 000 head of population. The NSW LGO state average for these licenses is 220. Directly attributed to this, is the outrageous rates of alcohol-related weekend assaults, with Byron LGA having 612 incidents per 100 000 population in comparison to the NSW state average of 212. Just to emphasis, I will repeat that, 612 compared to 212! But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Byron Bay has also ranked number one in all of NSW for 9 out of the last 10 years for PCA (prescribed alcohol limit) and DUI (driving under the influence) offences. In 2008 Police in the Tweed/Byron Local Area Command (LAC) recorded 1,087 PCA arrests, which was double all but one Sydney metropolitan LAC and 200 more than any other region in NSW. In 2009 the Byron LAC recorded 1,029 PCA/DUI charges, once again more than 200 higher than anywhere else and this time, more than double any metropolitan LAC.

While we are on the numbers, I am going to continue. In 2008 Byron Bay ranked number 2 in all of NSW for Offensive Conduct and has been in the top five since 2005. This is an increasing problem and usually always alcohol-related.

For non-domestic violence related Assault, Byron LGA ranked number 8 in 2006 and 2007. 71% of these offences are alcohol-related.

And we can't really just bag alcohol as the only problem here. Byron Bay also ranked number 1 in NSW in 2008 for Possession &/or use of cannabis and has been in the top three for this crime since at least 2004.

So, let's get real about this. Byron Bay has a serious problem with drug and alcohol misuse and abuse. We also have a massive problem with crime associated with both these things. I could go on and on about the crime stats for this region. We have the most appalling record in the entire state in all areas of alcohol-related crime and drug offences. We also have a dire record of deaths associated to drugs and alcohol, but particularly to alcohol. Alcohol is implicated in most suicides and I am not going to go into the statistics for this region, because it is just too shocking. P-plater deaths and all other areas of vehicular deaths are more often that not attributed to alcohol intoxicated drivers. Alcohol is also implicated in high numbers of break-ins, car thefts, sexual assaults and in fact, every single criminal offence that you can imagine, more often than not, has alcohol in the mix. It is the number one problem in our society today, but particularly in this region.

Nothing in our country is being studied with more vigor than the effects of alcohol abuse and its' devastating consequences. And nothing more so, than its' effect on the still-forming teenage brain. The biggest conversation that adults need to be having at the moment, is what do we do about our teenagers and their love affair with alcohol. This is not a new problem, but what is new is the scientific proof that alcohol has an extreme effect on the formation of the brain and serious long-term problems that include crime, mental health disorders and early death. In my next article, I will talk about and list point form some other eye-opening reasons and scientific findings, that support the fact that we need to be more aware of and certainly much more active in our dealings with drugs and alcohol in our society and particularly it's effects on our youth.

Besides my work with BUDDI, I am also an accredited Adult and Youth Mental Health First Aid Instructor and work closely with many organisations whose sole purpose is to work with young people who are living with problems associated with drugs, alcohol and mental illness, none more so than Byron Youth Service. Part of my work also involves running a drop-in program at the YAC for 12 to 17 year olds every Friday night. Most of these kids are around 13 or 14. Many of them, although not personally using these intoxicants, are affected by them, with their parents and older siblings having problems of abuse. Every week I struggle with keeping these young people safe and proud. I can't do much about what happens in their own homes, but while they are with me and at the YAC, I can at least keep these other dangers at bay. Another thing I struggle with every week, is the other kids, usually not much older than them, who appear in the parklands around the YAC and particularly at the rather dimly-lit skate park, with their cartons of beer and various other bottles of alcohol and casks of wine. This happens every Friday night.

This week, five of them turned up, 3 girls and 2 boys. We had just finished eating pizza and after a short time of hanging around the amphitheatre, some of the kids wanted to head back to the skatepark. The other youth worker and I cleaned up the pizza boxes and I was making my way over behind the kids, when I heard a war of words erupt. Sounding way out of the ordinary, I quickened my pace and found the Friday night kids having some serious things to say to this other group of young people, who in return were shouting abuse at them. It all finished pretty fast, with the Friday night kids retreating behind me and the other older kids, realising there was an adult present, shutting up pretty fast as well.

What astounded me about this interaction, was the passionate anti-drinking sentiments coming out of the 13 year olds, in comparison to the others fiercely defending their 'right' to be drinking at the skatepark as it is 'public' land. This is never an easy situation for me, as I don't want to come across as a finger-wagging old foggie, but I have a duty of care for the young people attending the friday night program and I also feel that I have a duty of care to the kids that find their way to the skatepark to do their drinking, besides which I also have a duty of care to the community that I live in. So, there is no easy way to handle this, except to be real. I explain that yes, this is public land, however, it is a an alcohol-free zone, as is pretty much every other area of public parkland in Byron, that the skatepark area is not an appropriate place to be drinking anyway, particularly on a friday night when I have all these young people around 13 in a supervised, safe-socialising program, where we also use the skatepark; that the bottles that get smashed every week in the skatepark put everyone that goes there at risk because none of them ever take their rubbish with them and that at the end of the day, yes, a little bit of finger-wagging, they aren't old enough to be legally drinking anyway, so their 'right' to defend what they are doing is null and void anyway. What else can I say? Plenty actually, but they don't want to hear it, they are already intoxicated and if I went on, it wouldn't do anything but to antagonise them anyway and my priority on Friday nights is to look after and protect the kids attending the YAC, so I let it go and suggest that they move on. As they are leaving, I ask them "How old are you anyway?" and the replies come in fast, "18", "19", "22", three of them offering up. But the Friday night kids are listening and on our way back over to the YAC, they all have a lot to say, but the loudest is and almost unanimous is "those kids were lying, they are all in Year 9 at Byron High". I had already figured as much. Having 13 and 23 year old daughters and being involved with so many other young people every week, I am pretty good at judging the ages of kids. So, being in Year 9, these five would have all been somewhere between 14 and at the most 16. Why and how is it that they are out and about on their own and in possession of alcohol? And what is it that their parents think they are doing? Scarily, according to statistics, one of their parents may have even bought them the alcohol!

So, what do we do about all these problems that alcohol use causes in our society? This has no one answer. It is a complicated and complex problem, with every single aspect of human life, in some way, shape or form, potentially affected by its' use. Over the coming weeks, I will try to bring some of these things into the light and I encourage you all to bring up these things in your conversations and really talk about them. Make it a priority. But this week, Dan Murphy's is the topic I want everyone to talk about. This is potentially a huge problem-making move, allowing such a huge alcohol pusher into our town.

Byron Bay, traditionally, cared about keeping these multi-nationals out of here. We fought passionately and successfully to keep McDonalds and Club Med out. Yet, over the last few years, all of that seems to have been futile and forgotten. We are now creeping towards being the capital of the multi-national's, with so many other giants moving in such as Sportsgirl, Billabong, Quicksilver, two Subways, Domino's and Witchery to name a few. I am all for progress, but with the infiltration of these multi-nationals and Byron's increasing popularity as a party town allowing the seriously big alcohol outlets in is a really bad step backwards!

I am raising a call to arms for the people of Byron Bay to do the responsible thing and to combat the potentially huge problem that allowing the grog GIANT that is Dan Murphy's into our town. Write the letters, petition council, do whatever you can to make this one go away. If this one makes it in, it will be extremely detrimental not only to the nature of our town, but also to the future mental health and well-being of our young people. Take a stand Byron Bay... talk about it and take action...

Life is short, let's make it easier and let's make it matter...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Clever Conversations


Nicqui Yazdi - 2010 Byron Shire Citizen of the Year

This is the first article in a series about life, parenting, young people and their issues, mental health and well-being and things in general that effect our community and its' people. I will be writing about the things that I see that motivate me and the things that move me enough to want to be actively involved in volunteering in our community. I'm hoping that this series will instil in others a desire to become more emotionally engaged and to honour the kind of integrity that keeps life in our community real and inspires true service within it. I'm passionate about people, what makes them tick and what makes them stick. I am hoping that these articles will bring out the same passion in those that read them...
I have made it my career and my duty to know and understand about the things that effect us and shape our lives, especially those things that scar us when we are young. Mental health problems make up the biggest burden on our society today and these problems start early. By the age of 13 half of all the anxiety disorders that are ever going to exist are already there and presenting themselves. The largest problems associated with the abuse of alcohol exists in the under 18 age group. They aren't even legally allowed to drink yet! Their brains aren't properly formed or even remotely finished growing yet either. The younger you start drinking alcohol, the higher the chance of developing serious mental health issues as an adult, especially if you are under 13 when you start. I could go on but will save that for another week.

There are a lot of lurking dangers out there... and we all should be watching closely over where life is going and our connection to creating the future. Our future lies in our own hands and we also hold the hands and the futures of our young. Responsibility for our young people doesn't just lie with their parents and elders, it belongs to the whole community. Our environment forms who we become, all of us. Our future is made from present and past influences upon our lives. We all have a responsibility to be involved to raise our community's young people to be educated, safe, secure, well-balanced and successful.

Part of that responsibility lies in adults knowing that there are boundaries, guidelines and consequences that need to be learned, in order to walk safely through life... and teach this to our young, as we live in a very precarious balance.

We need to show our kids by example, even if they don't get it at the time. Eventually we all do, especially when we become parents ourselves. There is an inbuilt radar that beeps really hard at our conscience when we do things, or don't, that are going to effect our children and their future. It is inherent in all of us to protect the young of our species, but our own ancestry, as well as our life's experiences, predestines our reactions to everything and everyone around us and we sometimes get it wrong. It is a long road that leads us to adulthood and parenthood and we sometimes have troubles along the way that don't make the ride easy, or get us to the desired destination, or make us the best of parents. No one is perfect, but there is an ideal and it is almost universally sought after. We want the future to be better for our kids and their kids.

Most adults these days are also constantly trying to make themselves better in some way too. Investing a lot of time, effort, energy and money into becoming a more fulfilled human. Many realise that their young years left them with holes in their souls and so many of these adults spend their middle age years try to fix these problems. But their own children are doing the same as they did and creating black spots in their own beings. But so often parents put this down to the rites of the passage of those teenage years. They will survive, just as we did. But we didn't, did we! We are all damaged in some way. We have seen things that have hurt us. And continue to hurt us. We have been so used to carrying all this stuff that has been piling up since childhood, that we think it's normal to suffer. We accept it as part of the human condition. But we can be helped.

As we are growing up, we start to take in our environment, all of it and throughout our lives this never ends. But when we are young, we don't have a wealth of experiences to help guide us. We are always living in the now, clutching at whatever comes to us when we need to adapt quickly to situations. We make it up in the moment and not always in ways that keep us safe. When we are young, life really is right now and our actions are impulsive and instinctive and not often the best thing to do. But they are all we know. We also think we are invincible and that nothing will go wrong for us. Those things that happen to others won't happen to us. We are special. We kid ourselves, because we are still kids and we haven't seen enough of the real world to be afraid of it yet. But our elders try to tell us. They say they know how it is going to be for us. But they are not us and we don't believe them anyway. So we let ourselves go to places that will hurt us, not because we meant to, but because we couldn't really know any better yet.

The equilibrium that we all strive for in our existence isn't always easy to attain. For some it becomes seemingly impossible to do alone. We may be conceived with a potentially perfect future, but from the very first moment there are an infinite number of things that can go wrong. Nature doesn't really have balance, it has dangerous twists and turns just waiting to take us off the road and throw our journey off course. But those things that challenge our right to a normal existence, also bring our greatest achievements, when we learn to be aware of the dangers and overcome them in order to stay on that path. There are some people though that find the twists and turns take them more than others and they end up further and further away from where they were heading and they are often our very young.

Perfect harmony and balance are not possible things. They go against the very nature of everything that we know. Everything is mutable and in a constant state of chaos, organised though at times it may seem. Perfect harmony and balance would be a vacuum where nothing changes, nothing moves forward or backward or anywhere. Learning to live in a constant state of flux, takes dedication and requires as little resistance as possible. On a cosmic level we are literally being tossed around in a universe that doesn't know that we think we are special. It doesn't care either. It is just always going to continue hurtling us through something so big that we can't fathom what it's all about. And it makes us ache to know why and what for...

On an earthly level it is exactly the same. We are at the mercy of the random nature of our planet and it's tumultuous but tentative existence. On a human level, we are completely vulnerable to anything that wishes to do damage to us, whether it be natural disasters that change our planet, destroy our homes and devastate our souls, damage from other humans, or animal, or bacterial, or man-made dangers. We are fragile.

We do however, live in very auspicious times. Everyone and all human knowledge is only a moment away. We are open and connected to the entire world and what we know of the history of everything and that knowledge is rapidly growing every moment. Constantly, information is exploding across every part of the earth and because of this, we are watching the evolution of humans occur at a phenomenal rate.

The last few decades' advances in technology now have us believing that absolutely everything that we can imagine, is possible and many more things that we can't possibly imagine are also potential. We communicate in ways that weren't even predicted when we were young. We now need to learn how to manage all this technology and communication. It is a whole new world that a lot of adults are fast getting lost in. Bamboozled and bewildered by the stuff that our kids seem to instinctively know how to operate, the gadgets and gizmos that make up this new digitally capable human life. This is a brand new chapter of human history in the making, where the world almost fits in the palm of your hand and kidz rul! We adults need to help each other to adapt to these changes too!

It's as hard to be an adult in such a youth focussed and oriented world as it is to be a young person growing up in it. Many parents seem to be swamped under the stresses of trying to keep up with such a fast changing pace. The things that we need to pass onto our young and knowing what they really are, is the hardest task we have. In fact, the tables seem to have turned and it is now the young teaching the old how to survive in a paperless world, where we no longer write anything down and it is all being stored in places that live somewhere in the invisible ether of the mysterious world wide web. Not in a drawer or on a bookshelf where it used to be safe to keep the special stories and secrets, where we knew they were there and we could access them, hold them in our hands and pass them on in hard copy to our kids. Those days seem gone forever.

Those of you that are in your third generation will say that it's always been like this, that life is constantly changing, technology evolving and our young are always smarter with each new age that comes into being. But it's never been quite like this!

So how do we adults find the stuff that we need to navigate through all this new technology and knowledge? How do we keep up with all that is happening? How do we safeguard our young? We network. We do what our kids are doing, we communicate. There are no taboos anymore, no deep dark family secrets that need to stay hidden for the sake of misguided honour. The year is 2010, if shit happens, all we need to do is ask for help and someone will help us clean up the mess. We know there is a network for every possible need. Friends, family, professional help and education are the keys to successful communication and a better future. And sharing our stories and our knowledge keeps us in a healthy relationship with the ever-changing requirements of being an adult in this life.

Education really begins after you leave school and start to forget all the irrelevant stuff that the elders and history thought that you might need to know, but probably didn't. It is always just what is shown down the generations. The proper ways to do things, according to those that have been here before us. But each generation and its' needs are always different. We need to keep learning about the new ways to do things and accept that the responsibility to continue to learn and educate ourselves, is a life-long requirement. We need to make sure that we don't lose sight of the future as it manifests, for it is the future and it is the responsibility of everyone to be present in it and not stuck in some darkened past.

As a mother of two daughters of my own and a whole community of young people that I feel personally connected to and caring of, I can't help but want to get involved and see what I can do that might make a difference to their future. Over the last few years, I have worked toward making things happen, that will have a positive outcome for us all. I have connected with many others in the community who are also working towards the same goals, to make life better. I have been inspired by the enormity of community volunteering that happens here in the Byron region and been blessed with so many opportunities to join forces with so many of these people on projects that work to better serve the interests of all of our people and especially our young people and those that suffer from mental health problems.

Two weeks ago I was awarded Byron Shire Citizen of the Year for my work within the community. Although I am very grateful for such an honour, nothing that I have done, was done alone. I am connected to a very strong network of tireless workers, both paid and unpaid, who have supported and assisted all the way. I was in fact very surprised to receive such an honour, especially as it was for doing the things that I have loved doing so much.

The last few weeks a lot of people have been asking me why I do what I do and especially about the volunteer work. The answer isn't always that clear, there are a number of reasons I guess. Firstly, because there seems to be a lot of people needing help these days and not all of that help is catered to by a wage-paid employment contract. There are many things that just need doing and don't have a regular job position or funding attached to assist with them. These are the things that we need to rely on the kindness of people with the time, the desire and sometimes the resources, to attend to. These people are mainly volunteers and philanthropists. Many are employed, many are parents, many are retired and many are also business owners. Often these are the people with the biggest normal everyday commitments, but they still manage to help out where they can. It doesn't always take a lot to give to those causes that ignite us and every act of giving adds to the fibre of our own being, as well as benefiting those that we desire to assist. It is a win-win choice. Help out a little and lots can happen from that.

The second reason I do what I do, is because I can. We all have things that we are good at, that we can pass on to those less fortunate and help to heal the wounds that life's dramas can inflict in the world. Everyone is capable of giving something back.

And thirdly, I do what I do because I want to. I have a desire that burns in my soul to want everyone to live a healthy, happy, more educated, connected and fulfilled life.

Over the coming weeks, I will be examining topics that I believe we all need to create clever conversations around. Things that I believe we should all be talking to each other about, communicating about on a community level, even things of world importance. The things that shape our future and that of our young people and how to help those in our community who are lost, alone or vulnerable.

I would like to hear from you, the community, about the things that make you passionate, the subjects that you need or want to know more about and the questions that leave you lost. Each week I will choose a topic from one of your letters and communicate my thoughts about it. If you have a subject that you think deserves a clever conversation, email me at and lets get talking about the things that really count in our community.

Life is short, let's make it easier and let's make it matter...