Q&A: Bullying not just a problem in Woodstock, says Kitchener teen

Kailey Ellingwood, shares her story of being severely bullied as a child and adolescent, and explains how getting involved in a local youth group was key to turning her life around.

High number of attempted suicides in Oxford County drawing attention to rampant bullying

Kailey Ellingwood, now 19, says she was severely bullied as a child and adolescent. (Melanie Ferrier/CBC)

Teenagers in Oxford County are calling for better mental health supports after five of their peers died by suicide in a four-month period.

But the problem is by no means isolated to that area. In Waterloo Region, youth are also drawing attention to the devastating impact bullying can have on a teenager's mental health.

The Morning Edition host Craig Norris spoke with Kitchener teen Kailey Ellingwood about her struggle with bullying and what she did to turn things around.

Craig Norris: When was the first time you remember being bullied?

Kailey Ellingwood: I remember, when I first moved to my new school, after being in a Catholic school for a really long time, I was always one of the heavier kids. So, a lot of people would start bullying me about my weight. I would start to feel down about it, and then they would start bullying me because they'd be like, "Oh. Are you depressed?"

I was being bullied for things that I thought was just part of who I was.-Kailey  Ellingwood, 19

Was this a trend that continued? 

It was kind of a downward spiral on from there. There was this one girl in particular that would just start nitpicking at everything that I did. She would tell me that I would look prettier if I just wore makeup. She told me that I was eating too much, or I was just acting the wrong way around people.

What impact did that have on your mental health?

I didn't know what to do anymore, because I was being bullied for things that I thought was just part of who I was. My weight was who I was, because it was where I was comfortable at. And she would bully me for my art, and my art was who I was as well, because it was how I expressed myself.

Did teachers every get involved, or guidance counsellors? 

There was one teacher who did get involved. It was one time after a girl called me 'emo'. He stood up and said, "No. Do you know what 'emo' stands for? It stands for emotional. So, you're calling her emotional." That was really impactful, because it was nice to see a teacher standing up for me.

In high school, you joined WAYVE. Tell me about that.

WAYVE is a youth-led program. It stands for Wellness Acceptance Youth Voices Empowerment. It's basically just a program that tries to promote mental wellness, while still discussing serious issues. 

So, a lot of the times we'll discuss issues such as bullying, we'll go through suicide awareness, sometimes we'll do topics like gang violence or abusive relationships. 

How did being part of that group change things for you? 

That was definitely the turning point in my life. That's what I like to call it, because that's when I started to break out of my shell. I started to make new friends within it, and I didn't feel as alone, because everybody was in this room and they all went through something and they all wanted to make the same difference that I did.

What can teens do to stop bullying?

One thing that I think is that a lot of people could just stop looking at other people as something to judge. When you start to realize that this person is a human being with emotions that you feel and you have felt, then it definitely puts a different spin on it. You don't feel like victimizing them.

How can adults help? 

One way adults can change it is making it an open topic of conversation within the household. If you're openly talking about mental health, or asking people where they are in terms of mental wellness, then it makes it easier to talk about if you are struggling.

This interview was edited for length.