AUSTRALIA is in a mental health crisis. It’s not impending. It’s here. Government figures show one in four people under 25 will suffer a mental illness.
While we’re worrying about lifting the retirement age and caring for our ageing population, it will cost billions to treat people who develop mental illness in their youth. This bill will soar if we don’t act now.
The ready availability of alcohol and its enthusiastic promotion to make it a normal part of society are major contributors to the youth mental health problem.
According to the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, more than 20 per cent of 14 to 19-year-olds drink alcohol weekly. A third of boys aged 12-17 downed seven-plus drinks at a time and one in three girls put away five or more in a session.
One in 20 students put away 50 standard drinks or more in a month. An Australian study published in international medical journal The Lancet found that alcohol caused 27 per cent of deaths involving 15 to 29-year-olds in 2002.
That’s tragic, but the physiological effects of drinking on young, developing brains are much more insidious. Brain development continues until the age of 20. Damage from alcohol during this time can be long-term and irreversible. Adolescents need only drink half as much as adults to suffer the same memory loss.
Kids who binge once a week, or increase their drinking between the ages of 18 and 24, increase their chances of not attaining the goals of young adulthood like marriage, educational attainment, employment and financial independence.
While alcohol consumption rates among young people have remained stable for 30 years, what’s really disturbing is the rising intensity of drinking in a small proportion of young people, especially girls.
TV networks have profited tremendously from aggressive alcohol industry ads. The Australian Medical Association has called for a ban on cable and free-to-air TV alcohol ads before 10pm but why not go a step further and ban all alcohol marketing?
Alcohol is a legal product, but why allow it to be marketed so aggressively when the Government is spending millions telling Aussie kids not to binge?
Parents set an example, but an Australian Childhood Foundation report in 2004 said 60 per cent of parents felt they could do better. About 75 per cent said being a mother or father did not come to them naturally. That tallies with research this year by Generation Next, the parenting education group that I will represent in a town hall-style seminar at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre on Saturday.
The Generation Next survey of the parents of 500 children found half were worried or concerned by the challenge of raising children and one in five felt overwhelmed.
When we give them a no-nonsense helping hand and take away the alcohol marketing that makes their job harder, they may become confident enough to take the next step of talking to their kids.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is a Melbourne adolescent psychologist. More information about the Generation Next seminars at www.gennext seminars.com.
Source: heraldsun.com.au 9th June 2009