Keiah Smith endured years of bullying through primary school and high school. She became depressed and attempted suicide.
I was bullied my whole life but it got particularly bad when I was ten and revealed I’d been sexually abused. I told a friend and it spread around the school and I was called a ‘slut’. I was also overweight and picked on for that, too.
At high school I was regularly bashed. Mum and Dad told the school it wasn’t acceptable but it continued. I was bashed walking to class, during lunch and when I retaliated, I was suspended. It was heartbreaking and it’s hard to put into words how I felt.
I went to another high school in Year 8 and was bashed three times in the first two months. I dreaded the morning alarm. The bullying caused arguments with my parents because I was so angry. I’d argue with them intentionally because I was hurting inside and I needed a release. I went down the wrong path with drugs – they took the pain away for a while. I started cutting myself and when my parents took me to hospital they were told I was attention seeking.
My first suicide attempt was at 14 and there were a few other attempts. Even though I knew my parents loved me, and I knew they were there for me, I felt worthless. I felt I was a burden and it would be easier for them if they didn’t have to look after me and fight with me to go to school. I didn’t want to wake up anymore. It hurt to breathe, it hurt to talk.
People asked me if I was ok and if I said ‘no’, they’d want every detail and to try and fix me. But it’s hard when you’re depressed to have people tell you that you just need to be happy, it’s not a big deal, you’re young and things will be better in the future because I wasn’t planning to live any longer. As a parent, you look into the future for your kids but if your child doesn’t think there’s going to be a tomorrow, there’s no point talking about years down the track and telling them they have so much to live for.
If they talk to you about how they are feeling, listen and hear what they are saying. Don’t assume you know what they want and need because you’re their parent. Don’t push the point if they don’t want to talk. It could be helpful to ask them if they would like to chat with someone else. Some kids might want to see a counsellor because they’re scared of what their parents might think.
Create a safe zone for your teenager. My Mum would tell me I could talk about anything with her and that she wouldn’t get angry. She might say she wasn’t very happy about something but then she’d say, ‘let’s work this out’. She never punished me when I found courage to tell her something and I always felt better afterwards. I think parents can benefit from doing the Youth Mental Health First Aid program – it teaches parents how to have conversations with their children.
From Year 9 until the end of Year 12 I went to Caldera School – a non-mainstream school for about 30 kids. It saved my life. I hated school with a passion until I went there. The teachers took time to get to know me and I felt safe to talk about how I felt.
My life isn’t perfect and I have days when I don’t want to get out of bed. But I have support. I’m in counselling, I have my true friends and family and I’ve learned to love who I am.
Keiah, 22, is studying community services, volunteers with headspace and is an instructor for the Youth Mental Health First Aid program.