“Sophia” was 17 when I first met her. She looked like a typical high school girl, but her experience was anything but. Or was it?
Student: Sophia*, Age 17
“I’ve attempted suicide twice, but no one here at the school knows it, just my parents and family.
Unlike what you shared in your presentation today, I am aware of what I’m suffering from, and I am seeing a therapist that my parents have hired, but there’s no way I would admit any of that to my friends.”
I asked Sophia why she seemed so comfortable talking to me and seeking help from a therapist yet not willing or able to open up to friends?
“Well, I don’t want to make it worse. It’s because of them that I am like this. And even if they knew, they’d not care. No one else is going through this, and so they wouldn’t understand.
When I was in grade 10, I had a boyfriend that I loved; he was everything to me. Throughout that time, he kept pushing me to send him a picture of my breasts via text. I refused to do it but eventually, towards the end of the year, I did it. He promised that he’d not show it to anyone, saying ‘it was just for him because he loved me.’
At that point, I was in with the popular crowd, had lots of friends, played sports, and really enjoyed being in high school. But a few weeks after sending that pic, my life changed.
My phone blew up one night with texts and DMs of friends telling me that my nude pic was being sent around the school. Within a week, there were so many fakes of me shared on Snapchat. A group of girls – former friends of mine – took that picture and Photoshopped my head on many other nude pics of women in sex acts and posted them everywhere.
I was suspended from school for a week for sending the pic in the first place, yet nothing happened to my (former) boyfriend for sharing it because they ‘couldn’t prove he sent it.’ My parents were furious, took away my phone for over a year. I had to drop out of the soccer team because my parents wouldn’t allow me to stay after school or engage with my friends anymore.
I lost everything, and even my best friends turned on me, calling me a slut and shaming me in the halls and on social media. I was completely alone.
The entire school knew my name and thought I was a slut. Even the teachers treated me differently.
Over the summer, the isolation hit me, and I realized I couldn’t go back to school, and my parents wouldn’t move away, saying that no matter where we went, social media means the story and images would follow. So I decided to take a bunch of pills.
I got sick; I didn’t die, but I wanted to.
I made it to the start of grade 11, but by mid-September, I realized that the girls were still calling me a slut. The guys kept asking me out, thinking that I’d have sex with them even though I’ve never had sex or did anything like that in my life.
So I tried again. I ended up in the hospital for the month of October and missed a lot of school.
I didn’t see how I could go to school every day after that. My parents forced me to see a therapist, which has helped a lot.
I’m not really better, but I do have a few friends now that I made at the community center where I swim almost every day. Swimming is part of my therapy; she told me to find something I love to do and practice it regularly, especially if it was a physical activity. I also joined a house soccer league outside of school.
That’s helped a lot, and I’m feeling better about myself, but I know I could never tell anyone what I did or show that I’m suffering. They’re like vultures, they’d all jump on that, and it would start all over again. I’d rather stay invisible.”
While Sophia focused her story on the mistake she made sending a nude pic to a boyfriend, she never once mentioned the word “bullying,” which she was definitely subjected to. She understood that her friends turned on her, but she couldn’t seem to separate it from “it’s my fault.”
STUDENTS: If you’re being bullied or made the mistake of sending a nude picture like Sophia, know you ARE NOT ALONE . So while it feels like you’re alone, you’re not. There are others in your school right now who are suffering some mental health issue because of bullying; they’re likely too afraid to talk about it.
And not talking about it could escalate your anxiety or depression to suicidal thoughts, which is 100% avoidable. If you can’t speak to someone at the school, reach out to local resources.
In Canada, you can visit www.bullyingcanada.ca or call/text (877) 352-4497. In the US, you can try the Stop Bullying Now Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. In the UK, call Childline at 0800 1111.
PARENTS: Do not underestimate the power of bullying to drive your kids to suicidal thoughts. Teenagers don’t have the wisdom or foresight to understand that this time in their life is momentary and so being bullied, isolated, and left to feel alone could seem like a death sentence to them. Recognize the signs and get the professional help needed.
You don’t need to be an expert, and you don’t need to manage this independently. 90% of us are not equipped to counsel our kids in situations like this. While it’s our responsibility to support and educate our kids, that sometimes means we have to admit what we don’t know and seek professional help. Before it’s too late.
YOU ARE NOT ALONE
Sophia’s story is one of the hundreds of similar stories shared with me over the years. You’re not alone.
If it’s an emergency and you or someone you know is planning on hurting themselves, please call 911. If you’re struggling, you can find other resources here: Canada | USA
*To protect the student, the names and locations listed in this story have been changed.