Statistics show that more and more children and young people suffer with depression and loneliness, and as a Mum, I always worry how pressure and the ever-growing expectations of our competitive society will affect my child. Lowri Cet is a young woman blogging about her experience of bullying, depression and mental health issues, and to learn how parents can help children in these difficult situations, and how we can recognise these important signs within our children, I set up an interview with Lowri.
First of all, Lowri, where did you grow up and what kind of upbringing did you have?
I grew up in Gaerwen, Anglesey and lived with my mum, dad and little sister, Rhian. It was a good upbringing, but I wasn’t a very happy child.
You were bullied at school, how did that affect you as a young girl?
I remember it starting when I was 5 years old, but I know it began before then. I’ll never forget how my year 1 teacher in primary school dealt with the bulling… sat me on the same table as the bullies, away from my friends. They poured the pencil pot out over and over and forced me to pick them up, time and time again, they were cruel and horrible. Despite that I was a popular girl at school, I remember friends arguing about who would sit next to me on the bus.
I knew I was different to the other girls, and one day it dawned on me why. I was fat. Everyone said it was “puppy fat” but looking back I had a round tummy like an old man who had been on the beers and a double chin. That’s why everyone laughed when I did gymnastics and that’s why a boy in my year shouted: “Lowri Cêt doing karate?! HAHAHAHA” and everyone joined in the laughing and took the mick. I stopped going to the karate lessons the following week.
How did things develop in secondary school?
When I went to secondary school, I suddenly felt even bigger than I was before. I got rid of a lot of photos of myself (I regret that now, my parents and I will never get those back). I was one of the biggest girls in the year, and no one fancied me, so in year 8 I stopped eating, and I voluntarily walked between 5 and 10 miles a day – not to mention walking around the school. Suddenly, boys began popping up on Facebook and MSN, so starving myself worked, didn’t it?
And then, as teenage girls do, I lost friends, made new friends, lost those, etc etc. The truth was, I didn’t have much contact with anyone, nobody knew me well. Despite everything, on the outside I seemed like a confident, happy and cheerful girl and on the inside, I was a shy, lonely and sad girl.
When did you realise that you suffered from depression?
The depression came hand in hand with the bullying and the experiences in school, I think… I can’t say exactly when it began. It sounds like I’m exaggerating but I remember the bullying and the loneliness I experienced as a child every day, it still affects me today. I just have this feeling like my heart’s drowning, and sometimes I have a lump in my throat and my nose does this weird thing like its burning and my nostrils flare up to stop myself from crying. The truth is I’m still a very sad little girl on the inside. I’ve just grown around her.
As a young woman who has experienced bullying and depression, what advice would you give parents like me and how can we spot when our child is going through these experiences?
The most important thing is to be there for your child. Listen to them and never tell them to do the same thing back to someone if they are being bullied, because then they’ll get into trouble too and they won’t trust your advice in the future. I remember being very nasty to my family behind closed doors, taking it out on them maybe? Not only nasty, but foul, violent. I once gave my little sister a proper punch and it really alarmed me how much I hurt her – I never touched her again. I was playing up, and things like that, when you’re not yourself it proves that there’s something going on, so as a parent or guardian, look out for those signs.
What advice would you give to parents of children experiencing loneliness and depression?
I feel maybe my loneliness comes from the fact that I’m sort of like that naturally. All my family are quite private, and we don’t discuss personal things with each other. That isn’t my family’s fault, that’s how we are, but when it was obvious that I was suffering from depression – we didn’t discuss it, and that’s so important. Speak to your children, share your feelings with your children and be open with them about things, it’s a two-way street, and if your used to having an open conversation then they will be happy to turn to you.
How can we recognise the signs that our children are suffering or going through a tough time?
Maybe your child is shy and quiet anyway, or maybe they are loud and happy, maybe you’ll notice a change and maybe not. The most important thing is: check them and take notice of them constantly! Children are cleverer than you think sometimes. Very often when children go through depression, anxiety, loneliness or bullying, they don’t want to worry mum and dad or grandad and grandma. I seemed happy in front of my parents and then I’d go to my room and cry.
Is there enough professional help available to young people suffering from bullying, loneliness and depression?
The level of support varies from school to school, and from area to area. I didn’t receive the help I needed. Now, as an adult, I work with children, and I realise that not everyone in power takes bullying, loneliness or depression in childhood seriously. “They’re just playing”, “So and so’s child wouldn’t do that”, “They’re only children.” If a child isn’t happy, there’s a reason. Whether minor or major, adults who work with children need more help, in order to recognise the signs, and to know how to help those children.
Why do you think that more young children suffer from mental health problems now?
The statistics don’t surprise me, I’m not surprised at all that more children are suffering. I remember someone coming in to talk to us in primary school about bullying, but we didn’t have anything else in secondary school. There’s more emphasis on other things now but don’t forget about the bullying … it’s still happening, and it’s worse because of things like social media.
Is there something we can do to better safeguard our children on social media?
Please, I beg you. I feel ill when I see year 4, 5 and 6 children appearing on Instagram and Facebook and see Musical.ly videos (that’s social media too) it’s illegal for young children to be on these things, and it’s the parents’ role to protect them. Is it wise for a year 9 child to put up a selfie or video on these platforms and receive comments on how they look? Good and bad comments – they’re going to have an effect on them.
And finally, what advice do you have for children and young people going through this?
Talk, with anyone they trust, parent, teacher, friend, aunt, anyone. The important message to children is that bullies are not happy themselves, that’s why they do it. Also, it doesn’t matter if someone has more ‘likes’ on Instagram etc – what difference does it make really? None. What is important is that they know that they are special, there’s only one of them and it’s important that bullies and these nasty people don’t destroy them, we are all special in our own way.
Mam Cymru would like to thank Lowri Cet for educating us and for opening our eyes. Bullying isn’t acceptable, no child should feel depressed and lonely and it’s obvious that we all have a role to play in order to improve the situation and to change the statistics. Like Lowri I hate to see children on social media and it’s obvious that social media plays a major role with bullying and our children’s mental health. I don’t usually preach but following this article I think we all have a responsibility to lead by example and think about how we use our mobiles in front of our children and young people.
To read Lowri’s blog click here
By Heulwen Davies, Mam Cymru