Q: Please tell us a little about yourself, your occupation, and what a day at work looks like for you?
A: My name is Cathy Kezelman. I am a GP by training, but as a result of my own childhood trauma experiences, I became passionate about the needs of people who have experienced all sorts of different people-related traumas – abuse, neglect, violence, and exploitation. Some people experience these as a child and others as a young or older adult. When such traumas are repeated often and are ongoing, they are called Complex Trauma. I am the President, effectively the CEO and a director on the board, of Blue Knot Foundation – National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma. I am also the Deputy Chair of the National Centre for Action on Child Sexual Abuse. My role is extremely varied from setting and implementing strategy, to leadership, government liaison, advocacy, media, and overseeing the delivery of safe quality services.

Q: Before working in your field, what preconceived ideas did you have surrounding bullying?
A: Before my work with Blue Knot, I worked as a GP, and also had 4 children who had different experiences with bullying - either with themselves or their friends in the schoolyard. Because I was personally close to it, I was aware of how insidious it could be and how hard it also was to respond to. This was because it could be subtle, covert, and layered - but there was also little doubt that it could cause a lot of distress and really impact a child’s sense of who they are in the world, their self-confidence, and peer relationships.

Q: How have your thoughts changed?
A: Now that I work in the field, I am even more aware of the often long-term and devastating impacts of bullying over time – on mental wellbeing, physical health, social connection, and engagement. I think many people dismiss and minimise the acts and effects of bullying, whereas they constitute often decimating emotional and physical abuse. The pervasiveness of social media and technology, and the propensity of anonymity to fuel the level, scale, and compounding of bullying attacks raises the stakes considerably. Tragically, it seems that often the ‘herd’ mentality predominates, and children and young people, who are often already somewhat vulnerable, feel and are targeted in a very public way because of technology. Sadly, we are evidencing an epidemic of self-harm, mental distress, social isolation, and tragically at times, those lost to suicide, as a result.

Q: In your opinion, what connects schoolyard bullying to adulthood? What are the consequences to that connection?
A: Being bullied at school can have long-lasting and profound effects on people into adulthood. This obviously varies from person to person, but when a child or young person is bullied over time, they are living with a consistent level of stress. This means that their biological survival response - fight, flight, freeze - stays turned on and does not often return to a state of calm. This has physiological effects which can, in turn, change the way that the brain develops, and the ability to regulate emotions and make decisions, as well as stress-related physical health impacts, such as headaches and chronic pain. Additionally, negative feelings of being not good enough or not likeable can become entrenched, as can challenges developing social skills to build healthy enduring relationships. Children who are bullied in fact can become quite socially isolated and withdrawn, and may also struggle to trust and be more vulnerable to future victimisation in the workplace or as an adult. Some might make different life choices as a result - subconsciously choosing different careers to try and protect themselves. Additionally, bullying can lead to mental health challenges, with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and a range of stress-related responses. We all try to cope as best we can and people who experience chronic bullying adopt a range of coping strategies to survive. Some of these coping strategies can have their own negative effects – including the misuse of alcohol, drugs, self-harm, and suicidality.

Q: What would you say to your younger self if she was being bullied?
A: If I was being bullied as a young person, I would be gentle with my younger self and listen to them, validate how they are feeling, support, and reassure them. I would let them know that they are not alone and that there is help and support for them. I would tell them that what is happening to them is not okay, and try and explore some options with them such as walking away, finding some ‘real friends’, standing up for themselves, or seeking help from a teacher or whoever the relevant grown up was at the time. I would say that I was there with them and for them, and was not going anywhere. That they were great, and loveable, and that what was happening was not about them but about the bully who bullies others to try and make themself feel better. But the bottom line is that bullying is never ever okay.


LIFELINE: 13 44 14

BEYOND BLUE: 1300 224 636

HEADSPACE: 1800 650 890

KIDS HELPLINE: 1800 55 1800