Teen mutilates herself after being cyberbullied

Psychiatrist Adrian Wang, who has worked with victims, says that it is because young people are very integrated into their online communities and they always have their phones and electronic devices with them.

So even in the sanctuary of the home, bullying can continue and through different social networks.

“These trolls taunt them on Facebook, gang up on them on WhatsApp and message them directly any time, anywhere,” says Dr Wang. And now, there are anonymous chat apps such as Ask, Secret and Whisper.

Trolls or bullies want to create feelings of powerlessness and helplessness in their victims, Dr Wang says.

“And these can lead to depression and sadly, even thoughts of suicide.”

The number of young suicide cases has been creeping up.

The Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) found that about 24 per cent of those who committed suicide last year were below 30 years old. In 2012, this group made up 22 per cent and 16 per cent the year before that.

A survey by Touch Cyber Wellness found that one in four secondary school students has bullied his peers online within the past year, while one in three has been a victim. One in five primary school pupils reported being cyberbullied.

A total of 3,000 secondary school students and 1,900 primary pupils were polled.

According to a 2013 Microsoft survey, Singapore is ranked second highest globally for cyberbullying.

For one 13-year-old, the cyberbullying got so bad that she started mutilating herself and harboured thoughts of suicide.

Winnie’s primary school friends began turning on her when she started secondary school and made strides to becoming a netball star. They started making snide remarks whenever she updated her Facebook page or posted photographs.

“They started making disparaging remarks on her Facebook page, commenting on her Twitter and even resorted to harassing her through the WhatsApp group they shared,” her mother, Madam Lim, tells The New Paper on Sunday.

Both Winnie and her mother’s names are changed to protect the teenager. She allowed her mother to tell the story, even if she refused to talk about her experiences.

Winnie still does not know what she did wrong and was almost driven to desperation to find out.

“When she first tried to ask them through Facebook, they called her stupid and retarded,” Madam Lim, 42, says.

Badly affected by the name-calling, Winnie began missing meals, spending her time in front of the computer and was constantly glued to her smartphone. After the first term, her schoolwork suffered, as did her confidence.

“She is usually chatty and will tell her father and me about her day. But she started withdrawing into herself and often locked herself inside her bedroom and sobbed,” Madam Lim says.

It was during the June school holidays when Madam Lim received a call from Winnie’s tutor.

“She asked if I noticed something was wrong with Winnie. She said Winnie had lost a lot of weight since April and she had also seen red welts on Winnie’s upper arms,” she recalls.

“I was shocked that I had not noticed. We live in the same house and I had to have a stranger telling me that my daughter was mutilating herself,” Madam Lim laments.

That was when she decided to sit the girl, the youngest of three daughters, down to ask what was troubling her. Winnie cried.

“I did not know what to do. All I could do was hold her tightly and cried along until she was ready to open up.”

After an hour of crying and hugging, Winnie finally opened up. She said she had tried coping with it on her own but was failing miserably.

“She said she was not sleeping and felt like a failure. That was when she started to cut herself, first with her metal ruler, then with razor blades.”

Winnie even told her mother that she entertained thoughts of ending her life but did not have the courage to carry them out.

“That was when her father and I decided to seek psychiatric help. We were advised to remove her from the toxic environment so we transferred her to another school,” her mother adds.

Today at 16, Winnie is much happier. She is looking forward to starting junior college. She has made new friends at her current school and is helping her netball team win medals.

“She no longer has a Facebook account and has closed down her Twitter. She has stopped cutting and is eating well,” her mother says. Winnie continues to see her psychiatrist and has finally learnt to love herself again.

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800

This article was published on Aug 10 in The New Paper.

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