By Brayden Yates
The biggest concern for a 12 year-old should be how to spend their fleeting free time outside of the schoolgrounds. For some of them, the harsh reality is that it’s spent worrying about the torment they’ll face once they step foot back in those same grounds. Brian Birchall is one of those children. Unrelenting bullying has taken a severe toll on Brian, so much so that he has not attended school for the past two months. Not only that, the bullying has also pushed Brian to the point where he has significantly self-harmed himself twice.
Brian is one of many children across the nation who face persistent bullying both inside and outside of school. According to the Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study, 27% of students of primary or high school age experience bullying at school. In addition to this, 61% of those students have also experienced bullying outside of the schoolyard.
Across Australian schools bullying has become an epidemic. It can spread through schools just as quickly as any sickness and the effects of it can be just as debilitating.
In Brian’s case, he has been the victim of name-calling, and the target of individual and group fights. Essentially, Brian has been unfairly made the laughing stock of his fellow peers. Aside from the actual bullying itself, the inaction from other students is also indicative of the bullying issue in our schools.
The government anti-bullying campaign Bullying. No Way! also undertook a study which discovered that peers are present in 87% of all bullying interactions, and largely just as onlookers who provide no support to the victim. In most cases, these students are present just to get a kick out of seeing the victim being tormented. While these students are not actively joining in, by watching and laughing at their fellow peers it only encourages the bully to continue their behaviour.
There are some people who are refusing to stand by and allow this behaviour to continue, however. Murray Benton, older brother of Brian and co-founder of the anti-bullying campaign Fight the Good Fight Australia, has taken it upon himself to eradicate this problem from Australian schools. The idea to begin this campaign came about after a Facebook post of Murray’s was shared over 90,000 times.
“Initially it wasn’t necessarily what happened with my brother, with him trying to take his own life due to bullying,” Murray says. “Two weeks after, we went to social media telling everyone what happened and had the post shared over 90,000 times. I have also had such a high volume of traffic coming into my inbox. That highlighted to me the severity of the issue. It wasn’t so much my personal experience but seeing the amount of other people that were affected.”
Murray says the issue of bullying is a severe one. Reachout, an organisation which is the leading informant on young Australians and their mental health, conducted a survey in 2016 of 1000 14-25 year-olds and discovered that 23% of the participants had been bullied in the past 12 months. Murray has seen firsthand how bullying can affect students and their families, through both Brian’s story and the multiple other parents who have shared their stories.
“All up, I’ve had about 15,000 messages into my Facebook inbox, and the things I wasn’t ready for was the stories themselves,” Murray says. “A lot of people confided in me and told me their stories. That was quite hard to read, but that’s why the motivation is there. I don’t feel like I’m speaking for my family, I’m speaking on behalf of the thousands of people who messaged me as well.”
Murray feels compelled to enact change because, regrettably, Brian is not the only child in Australia to reach breaking point. In January of this year, Amy “Dolly” Everett took her own life after she could no longer cope with the relentless bullying she was facing online. The bullying was so merciless that Dolly began to exhibit severe signs of depression, which tragically led to her suicide.
The rise of social media has also caused a rise in cyberbullying. Many children are having to live with relentless bullying while at home, just like Dolly did. In 2011, it was found that 10-20% of all children have been cyberbullied. This is an issue that young girls are having to face more so than boys, with 64% of females from years 6 to 12 reporting being cyber-bullied.
Since her death, Dolly’s parent have begun a campaign called Speak Even if your Voice Shakes. This campaign is not only aimed at raising awareness around cyberbullying, but also to stop the number of young adults and children taking their own lives as a result of mental health issues. The number of suicide related contacts to Kids Helpline Australia has risen approximately 22% since 2012.
The amount of people under the age of 24 who have died as a result of suicide since 2006 has clearly grown significantly.
While not all of these deaths are as a result of bullying, the Everetts are raising another important issue. While a great amount of people still downplay the issue of suicide, with many saying the act is “cowardly”, Tick Everett does not hold that opinion. Through this campaign, the Everetts are trying to shift this ideology. Tick posted an emotional Facebook post shortly after Dolly’s death, detailing how his family have coped with the tragedy.
“If we can help other precious lives from being lost and the suffering of so many, then Doll’s life will not be wasted,” Tick says. “I know for some suicide is considered cowardly, but I guarantee those people wouldn’t have half the strength that my precious little angel had. Doll had the strength to do what she thought she had to do to escape the evil in this world.”
One of the biggest reasons victims of bullying are lost to suicide is that many are afraid to open out to others about what they are experiencing. The survey undertaken by Reachout has also revealed that the main reason a child may not seek help for bullying is for fear of being seen as weak, a common stigma attached to bullying. Also worth noting from this study is the fact many students also will not reach out of fear the situation may only get worse.
In a more positive sign, the number of children who are seeking help for both bullying as well as their mental health has risen significantly in recent years. The 2017 Kids Helpline Insights Report has revealed first time mental health contacts to the national counselling service increased by 123 per cent between 2011 and 2017.
Louise Davis, a representative from Kids Helpline Australia, says to younger kids to seek help when facing this issue and not give in to the stigma attached to bullying.
“Its really important for young people to reach out and seek support,” she says. “Its tough enduring bullying that is face to face, and also online. It’s relentless for them. For some young people they feel like they deserve it, and that they are responsible for the bullying. So, its hard for them to speak out and seek help for those reasons. They feel like they are going to be judged for inviting the bullying.”
Louise says the stigma is still present for many victims though.
“A lot of people feel scared and ashamed of how they are feeling,” Louise says. “I think because of the stigma, some kids just keep the issue to themselves, through thoughts of being judged. Fear of reaction too, some kids have told us that people around them have just dismissed the issue as attention seeking.”
Bullying does not just affect the victim either, it takes a great emotional toll on their family too. Murray felt so compelled by what happened to his brother as well as other families, that he began his own anti-bullying campaign. This shows the impact bullying can have on the victim’s family too.
“When you’ve got a kid being bullied, it gets to the point where you can see a change in the child,” Murrays says. “That affects the household. Personally, my brother was a bright kid and very outspoken. Suddenly within six months, he wouldn’t leave his bedroom.”
There has also been the emotional heartache which Dolly’s tragedy has brought upon her family. Dolly’s father even sent an open invitation to Dolly’s memorial service to her bullies via his Facebook post.
“If by some chance the people who thought this was a joke and made themselves feel superior by the constant bullying and harassment see this post, please come to our service and witness the complete devastation you have created,” Tick says.
Louise was also very critical of how these bullies can affect they dynamics of their victim’s family, without even realising.
“It (bullying) can have a significant impact, it can cause frustration, anger and fear. It can also cause the family to feel alone too,” Louise says. “Families and parents can feel helpless, they want the very best for their child but don’t know where to turn too. They want their kids to feel safe.”
To the victims and their families though, the most important thing to remember is that you are never alone. Whether it be your family, teachers or counsellors, confiding in someone is always a better option than taking the pain out on yourself.
“If I could give any advice (to the victims), I’d say that you’re not alone,” Murray says. “You’d be surprised how many other kids are in the same boat.”
The minute you start to speak up, is the minute it gets easier.
If you need help contact:
- Lifeline 13 11 14, www.lifeline.org.au
- Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467, www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au
- Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800, www.kidshelpline.com.au