Addressing cyberbullying and mental health challenges: A parent's story
SHAH ALAM - In a poignant account, a father shares his daughter's distressing encounter with cyberbullying during the COVID-19 pandemic, how it affected her well-being throughout the year, and how he as a parent came to aid.
During the extended Movement Control Order (MCO) period, government officer Shaarani Ismail, 45 shared that his daughter who was attending a boarding school where online classes were the norm, faced cyberbullying.
Though the exact motives behind the bullying remain unclear to him, it manifested through online harassment on platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram.
"The online nature of the attack allowed the bully to remain anonymous, intensifying my daughter's frustration.
"The impact on my daughter's well-being was substantial. She grappled with stress, self-deprecation, depression, and anxiety throughout the ordeal," he told Sinar Daily.
Shaarani first noticed trouble when his daughter started to withdraw more into herself. She became quieter and less communicative.
Alarmed by the transformation, Shaarani approached his daughter, who then admitted to her father regarding the bullying she was facing.
"I immediately took action by reporting to the school authorities, in fact, when school resumed physically, my daughter had also consulted with her school's counselors
"But the reality was harsh, none helped remedy the situation," he said.
Unfortunately, the culture deeply ingrained within boarding schools posed challenges to seeking justice, rendering his efforts ineffective. Matters worsened when the daughter learned that her confidentiality was compromised and her experiences were shared with peers from different classes.
Shaarani had also consulted a counselor who administered a psychological test to assess stress, depression, and anxiety levels within an individual. The results revealed that his daughter was indeed struggling with severe depression and anxiety.
Acting promptly on the counselor's guidance, Shaarani immediately sought professional assistance. The daughter was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Anxiety Disorder, receiving prescribed medication to aid her recovery.
Reflecting on his experience, the father emphasized that addressing bullying necessitates the active engagement of schools.
In his daughter's case, the school's response appeared to favor the bullies. He speculated whether the bully's connections within the institution or senior status played a role, however true that may be.
At the end of the day, despite his efforts, Sharaani was met with limitations and chose to file a police report, exposing the prevalence of concealed bullying cases within the school.
SAMT Tengku Ampuan Jemaah counselor Sazali Muhammad commented that there are usually SOPs in place when schools deal with cases of bullying and counselors are expected to follow these procedures to maintain professionalism.
He added that educational institutions try their best to ensure a calm and safe environment for students to vocalize their struggles.
"Among the efforts put in are facilities like therapeutic and confidential counseling rooms, school support, and an appropriate platform for complaints are essential to emulate a safe space for students to talk about their struggles.
"Schools also employ licensed counselors for their services and engage with parents if needed.
"Additionally, teachers are also trained to recognize signs of distress and bullying among students.
"Teachers would discuss signs of concerning behavior to us counselors and we would advise them whether to seek professional help or other alternatives," he said.
Sazali expressed that it is important to consistently share mental health issues with all stakeholders. This approach makes students more willing to share and facilitates easier referrals to hospitals or building trust with students.
Echoing the need for better discussion surrounding mental health, Shaarani also thinks that there needs to be an emphasis on the need for vigilant parental involvement in their child's life.
He said that drastic changes in a child's behavior demand proactive conversations and support. It's crucial to approach the situation sensitively and educate oneself on teenage mental health, as solutions may inadvertently worsen the issue.
"Ultimately, parents should not undermine their children's struggles but provide a safe space for discussion, listening, and guidance.
"The journey to addressing these issues is challenging, requiring parental growth, adaptation, and a lot of re-learning.
"Even though I have made mistakes along the way, I'll continue to try my best for my daughter," he said.
Shaarani said that after consultation with the psychiatrist, a change in environment and school transfer would be the best step for his daughter's well-being.
The transition brought about significant improvements in his child's mental health. The daughter demonstrated progress in her new environment, embracing more comfortable social interactions, open-mindedness, and enhanced self-confidence.
"She is still on her meds but her situation has improved significantly and I hope she will continue to get better in the future," he said