A tendency to say "we're only having a laugh" when making fun of others often excuses what the butt of the joke considers bullying, the launch of an Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children campaign has heard.
Chole Callaghan (16) said people of all sizes, personalities and interests could fall victim to the taunts of bullies and that there were no obvious targets anymore.
“At one stage somebody will be bullied or will be a bully,” she said. “That is terrible but unfortunately that is how it is.”
Ms Callaghan, a member of the ISPCC's advisory committee who goes to school in Clondalkin, Dublin, said the majority of people, herself included, used the "only having a laugh" defence but that it was hard to gauge the impact that poking fun has. "We don't know if we turn around and say something to somebody how it is going to affect them."
Ms Callaghan was speaking at the launch of the ISPCC’s shield campaign, which aims to equip the community with a capacity to address bullying through an awareness campaign, support services and a reporting tool for schools.
Rugby player Brian O'Driscoll, actor Colin Farrell and recording artists One Direction and Michael Buble are among those supporting the campaign.
ISPCC chief executive Ashley Balbirne said the involvement of celebrities in such campaigns was often mocked but had helped bring awareness of the shield campaign to a far wider audience since it began in 2012.
Ms Callaghan said she was bullied for about six years and got to a point where she was so unhappy she considered taking her own life. “I let people get to me,” Ms Callaghan said. “I let people get into my head and say things to me that are beyond imaginative. To be honest, I don’t know why.”
She said that she sought help and soon realised there was no shortage of people who could help. “I had a family beside me and I had friends that I just didn’t see. I was surrounded by so many people but I just felt isolated...”
A personal motto - “live the dream, love yourself and never lose hope” - helped her through tough times, she added.
David Ruddy, principal of Talbot Senior National School in west Dublin, said bullying had for the most part migrated from the "old fashioned fight" on the schoolyard to the internet and was harder for adults to detect.
However, Mr Ruddy said the taboo surrounding reporting incidents of bullying had largely died out. “In the olden days they used to use the term ‘rat’ and it was almost a term of almost shame but now children upfront will tell and that’s where we are making huge progress.”