Dharshini G. Murthy, a youth activist in substance use and prevention in Malaysia. Currently pursuing undergraduate studies in Communication at the University of Wollongong KDU Malaysia, the 22-year-old complements her academic achievements with experience in project management. Here’s a glimpse into her life as a United Nations Association of Malaysia (UNAM) member, substance use prevention, and mental health advocate.
Describe a time when you solved a challenging situation related to substance use and prevention work?
Let me tell you directly about a recent incident from an academic point of view. We organized a fundraising event to cooperate with the Malaysian Women’s Aid Organization to raise awareness of domestic violence and sexual harassment. Since domestic violence and sexual abuse are now on the rise we really want to do this event. Domestic violence is also related to substance use by abusers which makes them react violently. And here the first problem started!
I was forced to try e-cigarettes and even some addictive substances. These are not only done by new strangers or people but also by my own friends. I have been trying to refuse and tell them that this habit is not my type and violates my principles. I was called “too bad”, “old school”, “orthodox”, “religious saint” and so on. But I always tell them that I will not choose this harmful and abusive or addictive habit because of any religious background, religious doctrine, or other reasons but my principle and self-promise is not to take this substance use. I will never try it. This is my principle. According to science when someone uses a substance our brain releases dopamine. This process tells the brain that this is a behavior that should be remembered and repeated. Trying certain things can sometimes lead to addiction.
Can you tell us your history in working with teenagers/youths and substance use prevention?
I keep under my hat the details of the people I work with, especially people who engage in substance use behavior. I have encountered some cases of drug use among young people or teenagers which are usually related to their mental health, previous life events, and family history. It all started when the Malaysian National Anti-Drugs Agency visited my high school every month and carried out prevention activities to raise awareness of common drug use among young people. I worked with my school counselors and carried out prevention activities to raise awareness of common drug use among young people. I’ve been actively involved in events and workshops related to substance use prevention since my high school days. I believe that schools/universities play an important role in educating students about substance use prevention. Today there is a clear need for effective drug prevention programs for young people. Schools have always been regarded as one of the ideal places to promote drug prevention because they are natural places for young people to gather and learn.
What is your role as a member of the student council in UOW KDU University to advocate substance use prevention?
The UOW Malaysia KDU Student Council has organized many conferences and seminars to keep students engaged and motivated especially in the current pandemic and virtual learning situations. In fact, our campus adopts a smoke-free campus policy. I’m part of the drug-free campus initiatives and Mental health programs with the aim of letting students and members of higher education institutions understand a healthy lifestyle without substance use. The programs and events we organize are in line with United Nations Sustainability Developments Goals such as goal number 3 ‘Good Health & Well-Being’. We also interact with students on social networking sites such as Discord. It’s a medium of good communication to keep in check with each other. Raising awareness for students and disseminating correct information about substance use and mental health, mutual communication, and interaction are the most important things we always consider.
Why should youth be involved in substance use prevention? What is the best way to attract them into joining the substance use prevention programs/activities?
I really think that young people’s participation in substance prevention allows them to share their experiences. In addition to this, it promotes personal development because it provides young people with opportunities to promote community change. I personally believe that the participation of young people in substance use prevention programs/activities will shape the world around young people thereby bringing many beautiful things to the country and the world we are living in.
Youth empowerment programs like UNODC ‘Youth Initiative’ will change the way youth see things, ultimately shape the world, and create a better, healthier, and aspiring future. Looking at each other among young people will actually increase their morale, ambition, and participation in more youth activities, and empower them in many sectors. Youth participation is itself a source of information for drug prevention programs. Information can be obtained from young people as citizens and beneficiaries about their changing attitudes and needs, their perceptions of the quality of service delivery, and barriers to access to these services. Young people can recognize which methods are useful for others to obtain information, and which methods still need to be improved. Young people know what they want.
The attention and preferences of young people keep changing, how to keep the youth to stay focused and interested in substance use prevention?
Social media is the right platform playing an important role in maintaining the attention and preferences of young people. When a message is spoken to the public or a specific group of people through social media, the message can have a huge impact, especially in this 21st century. Messages sent on social media are always well communicated and decoded. The interactive features and visual graphics that people receive, use, and view always attracts youths. For example, UNODC Youth Initiative ‘Butterfly Wings’ Youth Magazine on substance use prevention inspired me as a part of this noble effort from the youths to the youths. Youths’ voices shared in the magazine itself will ultimately inspire further plans and involve young people in an active and participatory way. Youth participation is based on moral values, which establish respect, unity, and cooperation. Young people appreciate the importance of cooperation not only with each other but also with the community. They feel capable of questioning what is happening around them, and when they receive support and encouragement from each other they will have confidence in themselves. The most important thing is that they learn to be responsible and loyal people, and they realize the importance of cooperation in order to achieve common goals.
Therefore, posting information and holding events through social media will, directly and indirectly, increase youth participation especially in the context of substance use, awareness, and prevention among millennials and Generation Z.
Made possible with the support of the Russian Federation and the Sovereign Order of Malta