As the number of children suffering from depression and anxiety rises, the government response includes mental health programs, social media campaigns, more youth clubs, new school subjects such as wellbeing, mindfulness and philosophy and continual discussion in the media regarding positive self-esteem.
There has never been so much money poured into mental health programs, youth facilities and anti-bullying measures. There have never been so many politicians, sports starts and celebrities declaring that ‘Bullying is wrong’ and ‘It’s ok not to be ok’. We have Walk in My Shoes, the Green Ribbon, Time to Change, pleasetalk.ie, Lets Go Mental, and the hashtags #LittleThings, #IAmaReason,#MindYourSelfie, #timetotalk...
So, in SPHE class a while ago, I decided it was just that – #timetotalk. After discussing the whys and hows of that ever-present evil, Bullying, we came to the big question – If you are being bullied, what should you do? The responses were varied. Most popular was the answer, ‘If people hate you for no reason, give them a reason!’ and as I tactfully tried to point out the shortcomings in this solution, I was greeted by innocent derision. ‘But Miss, you have to do something!’
Eventually one shy child gave me the answer I wanted – ‘Tell someone’.
‘Good’, I said. ‘Tell someone – your mum or dad, guardian, aunt, uncle, teacher, coach, friend, school counsellor. Get it out there. The worst thing you can do is to say nothing, and to keep it all bottled up tightly inside’.
I sensed a resigned disappointment from some pupils and asked, ‘What do you all think? Talk to me!’
Youthful openness can be achingly honest.
One voice spoke up bravely. ‘That doesn’t necessarily do any good, Miss. You can report an incident to a teacher and sometimes they don’t do anything about it. Nothing changes’.
‘Do you just think so, or are you speaking from experience?’ I asked curiously.
The girl responded briefly, ‘From experience’, and turned to gaze out the wide classroom window. Already she bore scars and already the people in her life who were supposed to care had let her down.
Another child piped up. ‘If I told ______ I was being bullied, he would just say, ‘Alright, Alright, Alright…!’ The class dissolved into hollow laughter.
And from the back – ‘If I was being bullied, and I told my Gaelic coach, he’d drop me’.
There wasn’t much I could say really. At this age of early adolescence, what an utter travesty that these precious children were already cynical; that when they did that which they were being told continually to do, when they did talk – no one really listened. No one really cared.
All I could do was tell them my own story, one of being harshly bullied by heartless peers at a summer camp, when I came home a sad and quiet girl with all my wounds covered up in the deepest, darkest part of my heart. I told them how, weeks later, I broke down and cried into the arms of my mother and father, and how they were righteously angry for me, and how they told me they loved me to bits, and that I was uniquely special and precious. I told my pupils how the world became alright again , because the problem wasn’t just mine alone. I told someone, and that was enough.
The children were silent. Some were visibly moved, some stared fixedly at me, others moved nervously in their seats. And I knew deep down that many of them had already been bullied, hurt, wounded. They needed to talk – they wanted to talk. But was there anyone to really listen?
The answer to rising levels of depression and anxiety among our children is not more programs, new school subjects, celebrity confessions or catchy Twitter campaigns, but rather a return to the days when parents took the time to listen and teachers took the time to act.
True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.
– Arthur Ashe