Let’s Talk About Drugs: Youth Media Awards 2016

This afternoon I attended the awards ceremony for the Drugs.ie Youth Media Awards – not in my capacity as a blogger let’s face it, I am not that important but as a winner in the 18-21 age category for my article on polydrug use and the effects of MDMA! I previously entered this competition at the age of 15 so it was wonderful to see that it had become massively popular in recent years, with over 1,000 individual entries submitted to the competition. And also wonderful that I won this time. But I’m totally modest about it, I swear.

Drugs.ie is an independent drugs and alcohol information website, run by the Ana Liffey Drug Project, aiming to help individuals and their families to address drug and alcohol issues that may arise in their lives. The site offers a wide range of information, advice and external links to further information on alcohol, drugs and available services within Ireland. The Let’s Talk About Drugs National Youth Media Awards is a yearly competition designed to enable young people, from 12-25, to engage in designing a piece of media about drugs or alcohol in an effort to achieve peer-to-peer awareness about drugs, or alcohol. This year’s themes were asking participants to consider what the hidden harms of alcohol were, or what the effects of drug use were.’ Entrants could either write a newspaper article, design a poster, make a short video or submit a short audio clip.

This year’s Media Awards was supported by the HSE Social Inclusion Office, the Drug Programmes and Policy Unit and COSC as well as the Ana Liffey Drug Project, and Eoghan McDermott (Of The Voice of Ireland fame, Dad. He’s not a singer. Please, please stop asking me if he’s a singer.) was a special guest speaker. Dad insisted on taking a photo. Attached is that photo. Turns out, despite how great he is with a DSLR camera, he struggles with the teeny tiny buttons on a Sony smartphone. I’m so sorry about my face. He did, however, capture me mid-episode of me being awkward and unable to hold a sign as per instructions, so that was nice… 

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Why am I this awkward way?

The purpose of these awards is not just to get kids talking about drugs and alcohol. It is, in a lot of ways, attempting to bridge a sizeable knowledge gap between the real world and what young people are talking about in schools. Personally, any conversations I remember having about alcohol in school were usually ended with ‘just don’t do it’. As was seen in many of the winning and runner-up entries to the Media Awards, peer pressure is a prominent feature. In many cases, young people, particularly teenagers and young adults, will perceive peer pressure as someone physically pressuring another person into taking drugs, drinking alcohol or behaving in a way that they do not want to. This is, in part, because of the ‘just say no’ campaigns we were taught in schools (and may still be taught today) – and the examples used in many cases, to the best of my knowledge, were about asserting oneself in the face of someone telling one to do something they didn’t want to do. In reality, peer pressure can be invisible. It can be wanting to fit in, without realising that not doing something everyone else is doing can actually gain respect in its own right. It can be observing friends having fun drinking or on drugs on nights out, whether in person or on social media. The power of suggestion is incredible, and peer pressure is not as overt as we are lead to believe. In that instance, ‘just don’t do it’ is ineffective. Young people need to have real conversations about the effects of drug consumption and alcohol consumption, and realise that both can have a massive physical or mental impact, no matter how ‘safe’ they think they are being. It’s not a case of ‘don’t do it’, but instead peer-to-peer discussions and statements designed by young people, for young people, in an effort to move these conversations into mainstream media. We need to talk about drugs. We need to talk about alcohol. Not just about drink driving – which is devastating in itself – but about issues that affect people as young as 15 who aren’t driving but are doing damage to themselves without realising in an effort, whether conscious or unconscious, to conform.

Eoghan McDermott mentioned during his speech that mental health is a hot topic. It has, in many ways, become fashionable to talk about mental health (though many of you know my thoughts on the necessary wider conversations we should be having, too) and how drugs and alcohol need to be widely discussed in a national conversation, too. Eoghan has spoken emphatically about his own struggles with self harm and made it clear this afternoon that we are not finished talking either about mental health or about drugs and alcohol. In truth, dual-diagnosis (person suffering from both a mental illness and an addiction to either drugs, alcohol or both) is one of the least-supported areas in this country, as most mental health facilities and addiction services will only treat one aspect – and both need to be tackled in order for the person to recover as best as they can. These are just some of the conversations young people need to be having, and what the Youth Media Awards are really pushing towards. Peers listen to their peers, whether directly or indirectly. They are aiming to inform, to help, and to combat what could be regarded as a widespread drug problem this country is facing today. Criminalising people for taking or possessing drugs has not been the answer to date. A project like the Media Awards has the potential to transcend what has become a social norm and equip students and young people with the necessary information and research potentials to be able to start conversations themselves.

The awards were fantastic and informative, and a full list of winners and runners-up can be found here. The overall prize went to Kells Youthreach group for an absolutely amazing video entitled Monkey on Your Back, which was brilliantly put together and effective in getting a valid point across. I learned a lot and had a gluten free sandwich or three and came away with a sense of involvement in everything Drugs.ie and Ana Liffey Drug Project are trying to achieve through the initiative (that, and a shiny new iPad mini).

Let’s talk about drugs. Let’s talk about alcohol. Let’s really start a conversation.

 

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Me and my lovely mum. She’d flip if she knew I’d put her photo on the internet, so here’s a workaround. Ain’t she pretty??!

 

 

 

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