We all know that bullying says so much more about the person bullying than the person being bullied. Bullies crave power and control over others and intentionally seek to do harm and humiliate their victims.
As for those on the receiving end of this treatment, this aggressive behavior often impacts young people the hardest.
Being bullied, whether it’s verbal, physical, or over even over the internet, causes humiliation, fear, and a sense of worthlessness in the victim. Studies also have shown that it can affect schooling and cause serious mental health issues, leading to depression, anxiety, and ultimately, suicide as victims may feel there’s no way out.
That’s what happened to a boy named Liam whose nightmarish year of 7th grade in 2017 almost killed him.
However, it wasn’t until Liam — who loved soccer, friends, and food — started showing signs of uncharacteristic behavior that his mother Deirdre Fell-Obrien noticed something wasn’t quite right.
In an interview with The Well, she said one day her son shared with her that he no longer wanted his cell phone. That’s when she began keeping a close eye on him.
After that, he started losing interest in other things as well. He no longer hung out with his friends, rode his bike, or carried around his soccer gear (something he used to do with pride).
Unfortunately, as typical for a boy his age, Liam was unwilling to talk about what was going on in his life with his mom.
“I was determined to get to the bottom of my son’s sudden and severe dismissal of his former passions, but he was so secretive and closed off,” Fell-O’Brien said.
Her son even stopped eating.
Knowing she had to confront the problem head-on, she made Liam sit with her one day after the boy refused to go to school. That’s when he finally broke down and told her he was being bullied.
“I asked how often they did this to him. He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Every day, Mom.’”
Liam also told her that, among other things, the boys at school were taunting him saying that he “sucked” and didn’t deserve to be on his beloved soccer team.
He also told her that they called him obscene names, physically abused him, and even told him that he should kill himself.
Liam told her that it had been going on for a year, and his mother finally realized that her son was depressed. He had also lost an alarming amount of weight since one of the symptoms of his depression was a lack of appetite.
Bullying is becoming an increasingly recognized common problem, so Fell-O’Brien had resources she could rely on to get her son the help that he so desperately needed. Unfortunately, the parents of the bullies refused to take any responsibility for their sons’ actions, and the school never held anyone responsible.
By the time Liam revealed his situation, he had lost so much weight that when his parents took him to the hospital he had to be placed on a feeding tube and heart monitor. His mom felt utterly helpless and said his condition had deteriorated so quickly that it took their conversation to fully understand just how much help her son needed.
When the school refused to get involved, Fell-O’Brien took to social media, where she shared Liam’s story with the world.
“I felt like I needed to shout Liam’s story from the rooftops,” she told The Well. “The words just fell out of me. It was cathartic. I read it over and over to myself and hit send.”
There has been a lot of talk about bullying lately. I would like to share my family’s experience with bullying. My…
Soon, the Facebook post went viral.
Rather than add to the humiliation this young man had already suffered, the post generated an outpouring of support from around the world to show the young man that he was not alone.
Readers even created the hashtag #WeStandWithLiam and created bumper stickers, shirts, and ribbons while sharing their own experiences with being bullied.
His mom believes that seeing people rooting for him was one of the most crucial steps in Liam’s recovery.
Liam’s condition was so severe that he had to spend ten weeks at an intensive inpatient facility to undergo treatment for depression and his related eating disorder.
Thankfully, he did recover and was able to go home. Also, to everyone’s surprise, the brave young man decided he wanted to go back to his original school and finish out the soccer season!
His parents were understandably surprised and proud, but more than a little worried for him. However, in the end, he managed to overcome and succeed!
Liam’s story sparked conversations all over the world about the harsh reality of bullying and the adverse effects it has on young people. It’s also led to more open and honest communication about appropriate behavior towards others in schools.
But as we all know, there’s still a very long way to go before bullying becomes a thing of the past.
If you or someone you know is the victim of bullying, please visit StopBullying.gov for resources and support. And just know that you are not alone.
Please share this story with your friend and families.