Six years ago, Katya Mazon, 18, realized the isolation and emotional pain she experienced was bullying.
“I was about 12 when I think I really noticed the bullying,” she said. “When I was bullied, it was not so much like getting beat up or having my lunch money taken from me. It was more social bullying and isolation.”
Given that the emotional pain she experienced wasn’t caused by physical abuse by others, Mazon said she didn’t think it was bullying or to tell anyone else about it.
“It was very emotional for me,” she said. “It was something I didn’t think I would need to talk to anyone about. It wasn’t like I was being physically harmed. I wasn’t in physical danger. I was being isolated from groups and from different social situations.”
“I thought it was my fault, and it was something that I couldn’t get any help with or there was nothing I could do about it. That’s how I approached it.”
The bullying caused Mazon so much pain that at age 15, she attempted suicide.
“It led to depression, and at one point, I considered taking my own life,” she said, adding she was hospitalized for a suicide attempt.
While in the hospital, Mazon met another individual who attempted suicide. This individual told her about the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance.
“They said they were part of it, and they found it to be a safe place there,” Mazon said. “Something attracted me to [Illinois Safe Schools Alliance]. It was a place that made me feel safe and where I could possibly meet people who would accept me for who I was.”
It was also through the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance that Mazon learned about the various types of bullying including social bullying – the type she experienced.
“Social bullying is less likely to be detected,” she said. “[Social bullying] is generally social behavior that hurts others, so it could be isolation. It could be spreading rumors; it could be mocking or ridiculing. It’s making someone feel uncomfortable through words or actions in social situations.”
Realizing that she was a victim of social bullying changed Mazon’s outlook.
“It made me feel better about myself,” she said. “It wasn’t my fault that I was being isolated and that people were making fun of me and that I didn’t have any friends. It was self-assuring.”
Mazon became actively involved with the alliance’s youth committee board for kindergartners through seniors in high school.
“I felt empowered to be able to work actively and to help prevent people, other students from feeling the same way I did,” she said, adding she liked having a voice in helping raise awareness about bullying as well as shape disciplinary policies. “Since I’m 18 and graduating high school, I can no longer be part of the committee.”
As a member of the committee, Mazon, who attended Chicago Public Schools, has helped with a number of initiatives including working with Chicago Public Schools to create guidelines to keep transgender and gender nonconforming students safe in schools.
“LGBTQ, students of color, and students who have mental disabilities – all intersect with bullying, and I’ve been able to actively participate in that conversation and help students who were facing the same difficulties as me,” she said.
As for her advice to those who are being bullied, “it’s not your fault.”
“You’re not responsible,” she said. “Even if you feel like [the bullying] is because of who you are – if you feel like if you aren’t that person you wouldn’t be bullied – that’s not true. It’s not at all your fault and you shouldn’t feel like this.”