Australian Facebook and Twitter feeds were recently overwhelmed by disbelief and heartbreak after the death of Amy Jayne Everett, a young girl affectionately known as “Dolly” and famous for being the cute smiling 6yr old face behind an Akubra Christmas add campaign 8 years ago.
Dolly was relentlessly bullied online, she was only 14 years old and she died by suicide.
I barely survived the depression and suicidal thoughts of my own 90’s childhood, but when I was bullied, at least I could leave the school yard go home and have a break from the incessant torment, a moment to regroup, to breath. Kids today go home, log on to the computer to do their homework or play a game on their phones and are inundated with pop up message notifications from social media sites. Bullies don’t need to wait for the school holidays to end anymore, they can torment their victims 24hrs a day, 7 days a week.
Social media holds great power and it gives it freely to everyone with an internet connection, it gives us the power to connect with friends, family and like-minded strangers like never before in history opening up worlds of possibilities, but of course, with this great power comes great responsibility and the choice to use this power responsibly is solely at the discretion of the user’s own personal morals.
Unfortunately, there will always be people who abuse their power, people that for whatever reason gain something from causing pain to others. Teenagers in particular, who are still learning where they fit in in the world, can now easily have access to social media sites such as Facebook and Snapchat where their ability to comment without having to see a face to face immediate reaction seems to allow a sense of freedom for the use of far more potent language than they might be willing to use in person. Young people are growing up with this amazing new technology that is often barely understood by their parents and they are expected to use it safely while still lacking the maturity to understand that their actions can have far reaching consequences.
But while social media has the ability to hurt us, most of the people that are reading this blog know that it also has the ability to unite us.
On one hand I know that if social media had existed back when I was a teenager, I likely wouldn’t be here today. Yet as an adult still frustratingly bearing the scars of childhood bullying, social media has opened up a whole world for me. Having the ability to hide behind my computer gave me the strength I needed to talk openly about my mental illness’s.
As I have mentioned before, very few people in my ‘real life’ knew about my Bipolar diagnosis, but online I was suddenly able to join forums, blog, engage with podcasts and tweet completely anonymously yet in a raw and honest way. I could never have felt comfortable expressing myself and bearing my soul like this to my friends and family for fear of their judgement or reactions.
As much as someone can learn about mental illness and as kind, caring and compassionate as they can be, you can never quite understand what someone goes through when they are on the brink of suicide unless you have been down that dark path yourself. Social media has allowed us easy access to other people who have walked in our shoes, online, I found refuge in the shared experiences of strangers and they too have found solace in mine.
Last week my bipolar depression hit the worst low I had experienced for quite a long time, I blogged about it here, I planned my suicide and began enacting that plan. As I went through my phone looking for the playlist I had chosen to listen to as I ended my life, a notification suddenly popped up telling me that there was a new episode of a podcast I listened to, it’s theme centres around depression and over time I have developed a friendship with the host communicating back and forth via email etc.
I chose to press play on that instead, the friendly familiar voice of its host surrounded me in my car like a warm blanket, the reminder that other people had felt this way and survived from someone who had was what I needed in that moment, I was comforted by the knowledge that even though I was by myself, I was not alone. I drove home instead, back to the arms of my husband and children.
When I shared this experience and my feelings on social media, I was inundated with tweets and emails from people who had ‘been there too’, every single one of them from a stranger and every single one was sent with love and hope. Messages like these ones:
I have some very rough days too. Days I question my existence, my purpose. I’m lucky though, I fall back on my faith and I’m reminded of hope. Keep your hope Kate..from one stranger to another..keep your hope so you can find your beauty again; it hasn’t gone anywhere I promise.
In the face of relentlessness, in the deepest emptiness, when there’s nothing left to give and the monsters have won, I curl up, face East and wait. Eventually the night ends, the monsters recede, and the light brings me back. Stay safe and trust the light will come, big hugs.
2:51 PM – 13 Jan 2018
Messages like these have kept me going on my worst days, they give me hope, they give me the strength to see my doctors, to take my medication and allow me to feel comfortable venting without the fear of being a burden to my friends and family.
They say actions speak louder than words, yet words are perhaps the most powerful tool of this generation so please take the action to remind your children that the old adage about only sticks and stones breaking bones fails to realise that physical wounds heal but the scars left from being called ‘names’ can hurt people for a lifetime.
We only get one life and it’s going to be full of ups and downs yet we’re in it together so please teach your teenagers to choose their words carefully, teach them to use this incredible power they have been given through their social media accounts to stand up and support one another, to build strength, hope and resilience within their community and among their peers.