Monday, 17 November 2014

Anti-bullying Week - "Let's stop bullying for all."

I wasn't surprised to hear that according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, studies have found that children and young people who have a disability (physical and/or mental) and/or special educational needs are more likely to be affected by bullying than other groups. That's why this year's Anti-Bullying Week theme is "Let's stop bullying for all" with the aim of tackling this issue and encouraging children and young people to celebrate diversity.

During your school years, it's common to hear about bullying. Whether you're being affected directly or know someone who is, most children and young people seem to have some experience of it. But when I read The Annual Bullying Survey 2014, I must admit that it hit home how much of an issue bullying still is in this country. The survey found that 45% of young people have experienced bullying before the age of 18. What I found even scarier is the impact this bullying is having on young people's emotional and mental health:. 83% reported bullying had a negative impact on their-self esteem, 30% of those who have been bullied have gone on to self-harm as a result of what they have experienced and 10% have even attempted suicide because of the impact of bullying. No one should feel or experience this and it's extremely concerning to think that despite these shocking statistics, almost 40% have never even told anyone they were being bullied.

Bullying can be hard to identify, which makes it even more difficult to provide support to someone experiencing it. If you have a disability or have special educational needs, communication may be difficult and therefore reporting bullying becomes incredibly daunting. As someone who has personally experienced bullying in many forms, and having had depression and anxiety at the time, I know how scary it is to speak up.

During my high school years in particularly, I was a target for bullies. Name-calling was the most common - several times a week a group of girls would tell me I was ugly. I was picked on for being skinny, being told that when I was older I would 'wake up fat' one day. I was spat at and shoved into in the corridor. Perhaps the worst thing I experienced was one evening when I stayed after school with a friend and we went to the toilets. A group of girls who had been bullying me for some time ganged up on us and one of them ended up physically assaulting me. I won't ever forget how the other girls stood there with smiles on their faces, some of them laughing as I was punched in the head and chest. Thankfully, a teacher spotted the end of the attack which backed up my story but the next day, the girl who had attacked me was in school like nothing had happened. She smirked at me as I walked past her on the stairs. It wasn't until my mum came up to the school that she was suspended for just two days. Even more surprisingly, I was taken into the office of my deputy head and I'll never forget his words. The school were aware of my depression and anxiety, and the fact I was receiving support for it and yet he had the cheek to say to me "Kimberley, you know how you have 'issues'? Well other people have issues too." They were trying to justify what this bully had done to me by comparing myself to her, urging me to not take the matter any further. I stormed out of his office and didn't speak to anyone for the rest of the day. This girl had assaulted me and yet because we were in school, because we weren't classed as adults in the eyes of the law, it was like it didn't matter so much. Despite the fact this happened almost ten years ago, it still haunts me now and it undoubtedly caused my mental health to deteriorate and knocked my self-esteem.

It's important to recognise that bullying comes in many forms: the Anti-Bullying Alliance describes bullying as 'the repetitive, intentional hurting of one person or group by another person or group, where the relationship involves an imbalance of power.' Whether it be name-calling, physical abuse, teasing, threats, exclusion or cyber-bullying, all matters should be handled seriously, efficiently and with the victim's best interests in mind.

So my advice if you're being bullied - please don't be afraid. I have been in your shoes. I have cried myself to sleep, scared of what will happen at school the next day. I know that having a mental health diagnosis can make it even harder. But have faith in yourself. You deserve better than this. You deserve to feel and be safe. You deserve an education and to succeed. Your voice matters. No one else can replace you. Speak to someone, any one. It doesn't have to be a teacher. It can be a friend, your parents, your sibling, a youth worker, or if even that seems too much there are helplines and charities that can help you get through this. Do you find it difficult to say what you're feeling? Then write it down and give it to someone. Draw it. Write a poem. Do whatever feels comfortable but PLEASE speak up. Bullying is NEVER acceptable, regardless of who you are, where you come from, what you believe, whatever.

And if you know someone who is being bullied? Just be there. Ask how they are. Listen. Invite them to sit with you for lunch. Sit next to them in class. Just giving them a smile can be the most wonderful act of kindness. Don't be a bystander.

The amount of information, resources and help available is amazing so utilise it. Here are my top picks of places to go:

Anti-Bullying Alliance - A brilliant website which co-ordinates the national Anti Bullying Week. It's full of resources for children and young people and those who work with them, as well as parents and carers, plus it has a dedicated section for supporting children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

ChildLine - ChildLine has lots of useful information about bullying on their website but you can also give their counsellors a call if you want to talk to someone. They also have options to talk to a counsellor online via a 1-2-1 chat or email.

Bullying UK - Part of Family Lives, Bullying UK has information for everyone, including information about cyber bullying at bullying at work. There is also a forum for parents and carers. They also have a helpline or you can talk to someone online.