Words by Tayla, 23 NSW
This article contains themes of anxiety, depression and mental health which may be difficult to read or triggering to some readers. Readers in need can seek support from the following services or visit our Creating a Safe Space page to see a full list of support services.
We talk about internet safety as if it is just another ‘pay attention for five minutes and scroll on’ topic. We raise awareness, we tell our kids not to post anything nasty, we tell them not to connect with people they don’t know.
But do we educate our kids on what cyberbullying can really do to a person mentally and physically? Or how it feels for someone who goes home with low self-esteem already, to feel it ten times more when they go on to the internet to see negative comments, messages or posts solely directed at them?
What about the detrimental impact on the development of a young person to have their eyes glued to social media, scrolling through every comment. Or hearing the message notification and instantly experiencing fear and anxiety about what that message says?
When I hit high school, fitting in was my goal. I remember my first day. With almost no friends, I searched the area for anyone to see me and magically become my best friend. We started to connect on Facebook even if we didn’t like or really know each other.
Sharing posts, making statuses about each other, sometimes nice but a lot of them nasty. Facebook and MSN were where we all went. These online spaces gave people access to share or say whatever they wanted without much consequence. After all, we thought once something was deleted it meant it was gone forever.
My entry into the world of social media furthered my depression and anxiety. I was met with abusive texts, comments, whatever way people could express their hatred. The constant dings of different things people had to say. I was told many times to kill myself and when I finally did try, I thought it would end. It did not. I went to my principal to be told things such as, block them, ignore them, turn your phone off, delete your social media.
That advice was useless because it isn’t a sufficient coping tool or mechanism. Everyone should be able to be on social media without resorting to having to switch their phone off. Doing that as a teenager now, is like cutting a lifeline off to the way we socialise and doesn’t teach us how to build resilience against bullying. It leads to feelings of isolation because you’re the one who has to be off the internet to save yourself.
I think it’s a matter of teaching resilience and coping mechanisms when bullying happens on the internet. If you’re feeling overwhelmed from the online bullying, you don’t need to delete your socials or turn your phone off. You should try to step back and do something you enjoy for half an hour to escape it. This type of tool helps you to calm down and lets you refresh and refocus.
For a while, it left me with habits that affected me mentally and physically, to escape I delved into the world of alcohol and other drugs at the age of 15, as well as severe self-harming, I had developed an addiction problem. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to make it to the other side of my addiction. I sought mental health help from Lifeline, Kids Helpline as well as private psychologists. By attending counselling, I was able to learn to be nicer to myself and redirect, refresh and refocus. But it wasn’t easy.
Despite the trauma from cyberbullying, one thing I always held on to was I would not be controlled by this forever; these people would not silence my voice forever.
As young people we need to take initiative on how to be safe online, how to healthily respond to cyberbullying. Teach ourselves how to strengthen our mentality and perception of who we are.
You can find an abundance of mental health resources online, especially on YouTube and Spotify. There are podcasts and videos that explain resilience, coping mechanisms, cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness, and tools to build self-confidence.
Using YouTube is a great way to learn more on how to stay safe online and what areas of the internet to avoid that may trigger you further- i.e., Facebook pages that can unintentionally encourage depression because it is a page only focused on depression.
The Kids Helpline, Headspace and Lifeline each have incredible counsellors working that you can seek out for free. I owe them a lot of credit for what they taught me.
Remember a bully, does not speak the truth and never will.
Don’t sell yourself short and let people take away your voice or creativity. Your self-worth comes from you; how you look, what your interests are, whoever you love. You have a place in the world, and no one can take that away from you. You will thank yourself for following facts, not pretend pictures or lies from the internet. Redirect and refocus your energy and time to building yourself confidence, self-worth, and belief in yourself.
Resources for you…