Bullying victim's important message after years of torment from Aussie peers

This End Youth Suicide week advocates are calling for more action from governments to help spare the lives of the 350 Aussie teens who die from suicide each year..

An Australian woman who was relentlessly bullied to the point of having suicidal thoughts at just 15, has revealed how the years of torment made her a stronger person. She is now proud to help other young victims with her lived experience and spread her important message to "stay true to yourself".

Shoalhaven resident Nelani Botha, who lives in Nowra on the NSW South Coast, said she was mercilessly targeted for being "culturally different", having moved from South Africa at the age of seven. Nelani said the bullying first started in school, then on transport, in public and eventually online.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Nelani, now 23, describes how she "went from being an incredibly bubbly young person who just wanted to be friends with everyone" to "fearing going to school and out in public places". "I emigrated to Australia at the age of seven, not knowing any English, and was put into an Australian school whilst learning," Nelani said of her childhood, recalling how the bullying first started.

Aussie teen bullying victim Nelani Botha when she was young. Left she is on the beach, and right, she is pictured in a yellow top.
Nelani Botha moved from South Africa to Australia at the age of seven, which she said made her the target of relentless bullying. Source: Supplied/ Youth Insearch

"Being culturally different definitely plays a big role in a lot of young people's bullying and it especially played such a big role in mine. It was not only that, but also the people that I hung out with who seemed to be targets as well and ended up kind of putting me in the firing line.

"During that stage, I stood up for people who were targets and that ended up making me get bullied. So I couldn't win, if you didn't stand up to the bullying, stand up for anything, you get bullied and if you just try and stay quiet and put your head down, they still target you.

"I felt defeated during that entire process."

Relentless tormenting induced 'severe anxiety'

Nelani said during those days she felt so "low" she didn't even feel like leaving the house and, the torment didn't even stop when she left high school. "I feared going out in public places," she said. "I ended up just isolating myself most of the time.

"When I left school, I had such severe anxiety I couldn't leave the house on my own because I didn't know what would happen if I ran into people who targeted me. I was still targeted by the same people after school — which you would think would stop when you've left, but it doesn't."

Aussie teen bullying victim Nelani Botha pictured as a teenager left, and right at school when she was younger.
Botha said her bullies targeted her at school, on public transport, and in public spaces before it moved online. Source: Supplied / Youth Insearch

Yet through what seemed like perpetual darkness, Nelani eventually found light, after she was introduced to Youth Insearch — a peer-led youth trauma recovery organisation — where she discovered the "acceptance I was looking for" and "other young people to connect with in a whole level way".

"Through that, I was able to find people that I could rely on to have my back," she said. Soon, she "knew that I wanted to step into a leadership role."

Nelani comes out on top through 'rewarding' peer work

Now the 23-year-old's life looks completely different to how it did when she was a teen. Nelani said working as a peer worker for Youth Insearch is "rewarding" and has enriched and transformed her life.

"After stepping into my leadership role, I still wanted to do more, I wanted to make a change that I saw within schooling systems and within the mental health system that needed improvement," she said.

"So when I saw the peer worker role come in, I knew that that's something that I wanted to do."

Being "that person in a school that young people come to and relate to" and being able to share trust with students, "knowing that you have a better understanding of what they might be going through than, say, another adult" does "gives me that encouragement to keep going and to keep fighting", Nelani said.

"It comes with its challenges, because you wish that you could do more, but just knowing that you're making a difference in someone's life is the best feeling that I could have ever asked for," she said.

Aussie teen bullying victim Nelani Botha sporting a T-shirt with the slogan 'No one is like me'.
Now 23, Nelani Botha has come out on top, helping young vulnerable Aussies through peer work, which she said is "incredibly rewarding". Source: Supplied / Youth Insearch

Tragic statistics in Australia

In Australia, more than 350 young people aged 18 to 24 take their own lives every year — a figure higher than road deaths. For every youth suicide completed, there are 100 to 200 more attempts, according to Health Direct.

This End Youth Suicide Week, Youth Insearch CEO Stephen Lewin said "it's clear that the system isn't working" when it comes to struggling young people.

"Those who have been impacted by trauma, have usually been let down by adults, and are less likely to walk into a Headspace or other clinician-led mental health service," he told Yahoo News Australia.

"We have a model ready to be rolled out across the nation, particularly in regional communities, and next week we will arrive in Canberra to speak with ministers and advisors to let them know how Youth Insearch can help support what they currently have in place."

Nelani's important message

To those who might currently be struggling, Nelani said never let anyone else dictate who you are as a person, and, there’s always help to those who need it.

“No matter how much other people tell you to be different or try and change you, staying who you are is the best thing you can do for yourself,” she said.

“Because being bullied changed me as a person in ways that I wish that it didn't. So just hold your head up high and walk away from relationships that aren't benefiting you and stay true to yourself”.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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