Mother and daughter Helen and Megan speak about Megan's experience of being bullied - and how it's impacted her mental health. We also hear from Professor Louise Arsenault, a researcher focusing on minimizing the effects of bullying and victimization on young people’s mental health.
“The bullying began in year 9. A boy in my group of friends started a rumour about me that went around school. It started with a bit of pushing and shoving – small things at first. But then it started getting more and more frequent. I was told I was worthless and would never amount to anything. It was constant – to the point where I stopped hanging out with my friends and stayed at home because I was so anxious.
School didn’t do enough to stop the bullying. I stopped going to the teachers because there was no point. It got so bad that in the end of year 10 I tried to end my life completely. Luckily it didn’t work.
I left school and went to college early, which was one of the best things I’ve done. It brought me out of my shell again and I made some really loyal friends. I wanted to go back for prom to see if I could get one last good day out of high school, but I wasn’t allowed. I felt like I was being punished for being a victim.
The doctors have said I have severe depression, anxiety and insomnia and I felt I could handle that diagnosis to some degree. But last year I had a breakdown after being attacked at the nightclub where I work. It sent me into a downward spiral. I took myself to a doctor who said he thought I had something more serious than anxiety and depression, but a lot of other specialists have refused to diagnose me. I feel like they’ve given up on me.
I’d always been very self-assured. But as soon as the bullying started, I lost all my confidence. It got to a point where I really hated who I was, because I felt like I was never going to amount to what the bullies wanted me to be. Now I'm starting to like who I am again, but it’s taken a lot. I don't think I'll ever fully be able to love myself the way a person should.
I’m lucky that I have some good friends and that my family has always supported me. But high school is hard – you have to do everything in a certain way. There’s so much pressure on kids to learn and grow quickly. I think research should focus on mental illness in young people and understanding traits that might make some people more likely to develop mental illnesses. We need to educate children about mental health and make sure every school has a bullying policy that makes sure something is done straight away.”
“When the bullying started, I told Megan to ignore it – it would go away soon and they’d move on to the next thing. But I didn’t realise how bad it was until one of Megan's friends got in touch. She told me every time the rumour stopped being talked about, this boy would bring it up again.
It went from being one person to a whole gang – and after a few months he started to make violent threats. I remember Megan telling me how him and his friends once blocked the stairs to her classroom. He told her that if she tried to go up those stairs again he’d throw her down them and break her neck. The school made excuses for him and didn’t deal with it at all. It got to a point where I was going into school at least once a week.
When Megan tried to take her own life it was a nightmare. Since then, we’ve seen so many doctors and specialists but nothing is consistent. Megan is desperate to know what’s going on, so that she can understand how to make things better. I don’t want to see her in pain anymore or worry that I’m going to get a call saying the worst has happened.
Megan's always being very individual – she has her own sense of style and her own sense of self. From the age of four when she could pick her own clothes, the fight was on! She was so confident – when she left junior school she got up in front of everyone in assembly and sang on her own. We used to laugh and say she’d be on a TV show with her personality because she was such an exhibitionist. It’s been really hard to see pieces of her being chipped away.
I’d say to any children or mothers who are going through what we’ve been through that there is the other side of the road. It may not be as shiny and bright as you think it is, but it’s definitely worth fighting for. It’s hard to be a mum – you have to try and be strong while secretly wanting to break yourself.
I hope Megan gets that little piece of herself back that she seems to have lost. I also hope the doctors eventually help her understand what’s going on. Once that happens, I’ll feel like we have finally crossed the bridge. It’s a bloody long bridge, but we're getting there."
“There are considerable research findings showing the harmful impact of bullying on young people's mental health. Victims of bullying like Megan can develop symptoms of anxiety, depression and even psychosis. Schools must ensure they provide a safe environment and interventions should continue that aim to stopping bullying behaviour. We should not consider this distressing experience as a normal part of growing up.
Despite all these efforts, it is unfortunately unlikely that one day we will eradicate bullying entirely. To minimize its harmful consequences, we should focus on interventions for victims and potential victims of bullying that promote empathy and resilience. Working with parents of young people considered 'at risk' of being bullied could also help develop their emotional and social skills via online programmes or family support workers, social workers and other practitioners. Finally, we must better integrate action on bullying into schools' mental health and wellbeing agenda.”
Last updated: 26 November 2018