Many, many kids who struggle with mental illness are the target of bullying. Our Youth Action Committee, a group of youth leaders from across the province, tell us over and over that bullies target kids who are different and kids who are struggling. For kids that are struggling with mental illness, being bullied is like the “straw that broke the camel’s back” forcing them to withdraw further from their community.
My daughter was bullied when she will trying desperately to recover from a very serious mental illness. She was depressed, anxious and had obsessive compulsive disorder. It had been a long two years where she had been in very intensive treatment at a child and youth mental health centre. She was slowly but surely getting better. As she transitioned back to a regular school, she felt she couldn’t return to her home school – she just didn’t feel ready to re-connect, and had some bad memories of struggling with relationships as she became ill. We placed her in a different school, just out of her neighborhood. Things went well at first, and we were so happy to see her go off to school. Some of her “joie de vivre” and confidence returning.
But within a few months, a bully targeted her. We worked with the administrators, but they just didn’t act quickly enough or with sufficient skills to avert the problem. After three months, the confidence that Lauren had been building just crumbled. She started to avoid school again, like she had before. It was terrifying to us that she was going to slide down into severe depression again.
We worked with her psychiatrist and her psychologist at a Child and Youth Mental Health Centre. We all, Lauren included, decided she had to leave the school – it was not mentally healthy for her to remain. My husband and I were terrified that moving her mid-year was also going to be too much for her.
Finally, we had some good luck. Lauren had re-connected with her friends in our neighborhood while she was at the new school. They welcomed her back with open arms and she felt comfortable going to school with them. The administration at the local school was amazing. Lauren told them everything that had happened to her over the past three years and they were accepting, warm and supportive. I remember my husband and I shed tears of relief because we felt the warmth of the culture and support from the team at the school. Bullying was just not acceptable at this school and the administrative staff made sure that differences were supported rather than targeted.
For all those teachers and administrators at schools around the province who promote cultures in schools that accept and support differences, thank you for the work you do. On Pink Day, I salute those who support and help kids with differences everywhere.