Kameron Kriese sits in a dark, cavelike room in the basement of his home, gaming or “chatting” with one of his online friends.
This safe space and his computer comprise a lifeline for the young teen who has, more than once, expressed the desire to get sick and die so people will say nice things about him.
Life has never been easy for the 14-year-old who, at age seven, was diagnosed with a complex set of disorders – adolescent bipolar, anxiety and ADHD.
Kam knows better than most that while they can’t break your bones, words can destroy your spirit.
In Grade 9 part time, Kam has never been able to attend school full time and, with support from a learning assistant, re-entered the regular school system in Grade 7.
But the school experience is not what he, or his mother Monica hoped it would be – he has no friendships to speak of, there are no dances or parties, no trips to the movies, no friends calling or visiting.
Intelligent and articulate, Kam is the victim of bullying by a group of seven or eight classmates – a group who make fun of him, taunt, mock and push him around at every opportunity.
He is ridiculed and told to shut up when he puts his hand up to answer a question.
“I am an intelligent person and that has caused problems with other kids,” says Kam with a grimace, admitting that the comment, “learning assistants are for retards,” is one he has heard more than once.
Asked how he feels when kids call him crazy, Kam shrugs his shoulders and says he’s heard a lot worse.
“Some of them just call me plain old f– retard,” he says.
Physically, he has been kicked in the back by a young female student, pushed into a locker and punched in the head three times by another – all since the new semester started in February.
Kam says his teacher has defended him several times and the bullying is mostly confined to the classroom because the hallways are too open to the watchful eyes of other teachers.
And aside from having food thrown at him by a boy who used to be a friend, the cafeteria seems to be a safe place too.
The concept of former friends is not new to Kam either. One female student he happily considered to be a friend, turned away from him when she became part of the in “bully group.”
This, and earlier school experiences, have taught Kam not to trust anyone’s offer of friendship.
“I have pushed people away,” he admits sadly of the protective wall he has built. “One or two kids in middle school who said ‘hi, how’re you doing,’ or ‘how are things going?’ I just said I don’t really want to deal with this right now, can you please push off. I am not really the person you want to hang around with.”
Kameron admits he’s got what he calls “a smart mouth,” another tool in his protective arsenal.
While he takes his medication willingly because he knows that without them his “mind would be in shambles,” Kam has darker days; days when he feels like he’s about “to fall off the road.”
Monica says that Kam is having more darker moods as he’s aging, that he is more sensitive, so abusive words and actions hurt even more.
“All these things add up and when Kam goes downhill with his depression, he has a higher risk of becoming suicidal,” she says, pointing out school officials are aware and she was pleased with a meeting she had with Kam’s principal about recent bullying.
“I’ve been told I’ll feel better, I’ve been told suicide is not the way, and I’ve also been told it’s not worth it,” says Kam, admitting the advice is harder to accept on his dark days. “One of the things stopping me is playing with video games – there’s always new ones coming out, and I haven’t had a girlfriend yet.”
Kam readily admits the video games are an escape, a way to avoid being hurt by thoughtless and cruel taunts.
Internet-savvy Monica, says she keeps an eye on her son to make sure he is staying safe online.
Faced with the challenge of being a single parent to a child with mental health challenges, Monica has immersed herself in seeking and sharing support for others.
She is support co-ordinator for the FORCE Society for Kids Mental Health, supporting, educating and advocating for parents in the same situation. She is also chair of the Shuswap Suicide Prevention Committee.
“One of the key elements to Kameron staying well is his willingness is to talk about the situation at school and how it’s impacting him,” she says. “Studies show that when a person is slipping into depression, and an adult shows they care, there is less risk of slipping into a deeper depression or becoming suicidal.”
Kameron’s well-being is taken seriously at School District #83 where Student Support Services director Morag Asquith knows his situation well.
While she cannot speak to his case in particular, Asquith says she often deals with the issue of bullying, something that has been exacerbated by easy access to social media.
Asquith says school officials first have to discern if a situation is a temporary conflict or ongoing, targeted bullying before choosing a course of action, which often includes working with parents and depends as well on the needs of the student.
To do this, the school district has developed a Bullying Help Sheet for those who are being bullied or who witness bullying.
A presentation Asquith made to the school board, acknowledges that bullying is a symptom of a broader issue.
The role of parents and all adults is to care about and support kids as they go through socially fragile times.
Asquith recommends bullying issues first be reported to the adult who is closest to the student at school, followed by the principal if the student or families are not satisfied.
“They have to feel they have been heard; that’s the important point,” says Asquith. “Sometimes it helps to have an outside eye like myself to work with the situation as well.”
A provincial website is now available to report bullying at www.erasebullying.ca, and any report involving School District #83 makes its way to Asquith’s desk.
It is important, she notes, that names be attached to the reports because nothing can be done to help if she doesn’t know who the student is.