Today is National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence, and we wanted to get involved by doing the best thing possible when acting against bullying – talking about it!

Unfortunately, bullying is experienced every day by people all over the world. Although the school ground is often where it all starts, adults are subjected to bullying too.

Paul O’Dea has been a self-advocate for issues commonly affecting people with intellectual disabilities for over twenty years. He has dedicated much of his life to speaking up about these issues, and does a lot to encourage change in his community, including public speaking and writing.

Paul shared with us his experience with bullying, how that affected him, and how he handled it.

For Paul, though bullying began in his school years, his most significant experience with bullying was when he left home at 18 years old.

“I was bullied a bit in school, and I remember it made me feel angry and depressed. At that time, I thought I was alone and I didn’t even think you could tell someone else,” he said.

“Then when I left home at 18, I became involved with a group of friends. It was good to have friends and to do things together. However, there was a price to pay. A couple of the friends made fun of me and one physically abused me fairly regularly.

“I let it go because I thought it was normal and the price I had to pay for having friends. But it didn’t seem right and eventually I felt a need to end the bullying. Luckily I have a good relationship with my Dad and he suggested I go and talk to someone who could help mediate the situation.

“I was supported to have a few meetings with my abuser where I was able to say my piece, and he apologised. We were able to remain friends and his behaviour changed. That is how I learnt the importance of not being afraid to speak up, and I wanted to share that with other people.

“I became involved in a ‘Talking about Bullying’ group, where we met to talk about experiences with bullying and what action to take. For a number of years, we offered workshops to schools, workplaces, and organisations on preventing bullying. Now I speak at conferences and workshops, and I’ve recently written an article for the Australian Society for Intellectual Disability (ASID) about bullying.

“I hear about bullying happening and I’ve seen it happening in front of me. Witnessing bullying is difficult because often you can’t take action while it’s happening, and it’s not always a good idea to approach the situation. This happened recently; I saw somebody being bullied by a number of people, they were calling this person names and I could see it was hurting. So, I reported what had happened to a person who I thought could help, and they were able to change their situation. You may not be able to help in the moment, but if you witness bullying there is always something you can do to help.

“Bullies become stronger in silence. If you are feeling bullied, the best advice I could ever give is to share your experience with someone you trust. You are not alone.”

For information and resources around understanding, responding to, and preventing bullying, visit https://bullyingnoway.gov.au.