Tia in the hospital Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sitting in the dimly lit room, 17-year-old Tia Kamel took in a deep breath, and said, “Sometimes I hated waking up in the morning and going to school.”

Unlike most children, Kamel did not have a good school experience and was bullied from a very early age. She recalls her first bullying experience at age six; says it didn't stop until she had graduated from high school.

It got so severe that she almost lost her life.

Types of bullying and effects

According to the United Nations’ studies, nine out of 10 young people believe bullying is a pervasive problem in their communities. As per a poll conducted by Unicef, getting bullied based on one’s appearance is very common and ubiquitous around the globe.

UAE-based educational counsellor Rema Menon told Gulf News that when a person is going through adolescence, they are more aware of themselves. “They are comparing themselves to others of their own age group. For those people who are sensitive, it may be difficult to accept.

“I was bullied because of my appearance, my height and my haircut. I wasn’t a very talkative person, which made me an easy target.” Kamel said.

Clinical counsellor Christina Burmeister told Gulf News that bullying could start because of many reasons. “Any kind of physical feature that makes a person different becomes something that a bully will pick on. Also, children with low self-esteem tend to be bullied, too.”

Bullying can be physical and emotional, both of which have negative effects on a person. Burmeister said: “Physical bullying can be seen as damage done to the body, while verbal bullying is more difficult [to observe] because it tends to have psychological problems [associated with it, which last even after the incident]. Children withdraw, they do not want to spend time with anyone anymore… some children develop allergies, headaches and don’t want to go to school.”

The severity of bulling depends on the individual and the situation. While bullying in school is recognised and considered a problem, people underestimate the impact it can have on someone’s life.

As Kamel grew up, she changed peer groups, got into the wrong company and went through a rough patch with her friends. Her sister and best friend also left school, making her feel more isolated. And the bullying escalated by a group of ‘popular’ students. Her friends betrayed her and carried tales.

Finally Kamel broke - she started shaking severely and fainted in her mother’s arms. She was rushed to hospital and was induced into a coma in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). They couldn’t diagnose the problem. But, eventually, they realised that she would have seizures when exposed to people or anything linked to her school. She was eventually diagnosed with anxiety and clinical depression.

Reaching out

Kamel’s condition was critical because she did not seek help earlier. Her mother worked at the same school in Abu Dhabi, which gave her peer group another reason to target her. However, she never confided in anyone.

“The saying snitches get stiches followed me throughout my school life.” She was afraid that telling someone would give bullies another reason to hurt her. “Bullies are afraid of getting teachers involved because they know something will happen… which is why they blackmail the victim.”

According to a study by Unicef a few years’s ago, many young people do not tell anyone about the harassment they face and often suffer in silence. A lot of children also don’t come forward because they think such incidents are normal.

According to Burmeister, the most severe effects of bullying could be that “someone actually dies due to the consequences of the violence inflicted upon them”.

How can society help?

Bullying can have serious consequences, which is why it is important to address it early. Schools need to have a more proactive approach when it comes to identifying bullying and helping the victim.

Burmeister said: “One of the first step for bullying to be reduced is to increase awareness of bullying and make facilities available to people who are being bullied.”

It is important to talk to someone too.

“I started seeing a therapist and she made me talk about everything that’s happened. I started getting better. I don’t have seizures anymore. I am lucky to be alive,” Kamel said.

Bullying causes stress to a person’s life, which is why it is important to make them feel loved, Rema Menon added. “It is imperative to report such incidents, than be a passive observer. It is important for the child to feel that someone cares.”

It is important to know that a person is not alone.