Published Tuesday, 20 November 2012
Now an outgoing entertainer, Leona Hoey, 21, wasn't always so confident as when she was a teenager she was targeted by bullies.
"I can really emphathise with anyone going through it because it's very intimidating," she said.
"You're just so afraid and you start to question yourself and you don't know who you are and you start to believe the things that they say.
"People pick on your differences, I was a very quiet person and I think people can prey on that but as I grew up I embraced who I was and I think everybody should do that."
Her experience is not an unusual one as almost 40% of nine-year-olds claim they have been bullied.
However the young Newry woman has turned a new chapter and is now enjoying a musical career as a singer. She advised anyone going through what she has to stay strong and speak out.
"It's important if you're going through that you don't believe what they say," she said.
You are perfect the way you are and there is nothing wrong with you and you don't need to change. Just keep doing what you're doing and tell someone if you're being bullied.
Leona has penned a song about her experience, which she describes is a song of triumph rather than defeat.
"I wrote the first part when I was going through everything but I came to my manager and said, 'I really want to rework this song because I'm happy now and I want other people to know that it doesn't last forever'."
Around 650 schools across the region took part in a special competition to raise awareness of the problem and highlight this year's message- "everybody is somebody".
Presenting awards at the event was Education Minister John O'Dowd who said bullying in schools is a "universal problem".
He said: "Bullying is damaging to individuals and to their education and I encourage schools and pupils to work together to eradicate this problem. I want children and young people to tell us how to help them. Partnerships like the Anti-Bullying Forum enable children to do this and ensure we find the best solutions to this problem."
Lee Kane, regional coordinator for the NI Anti-Bullying Forum, which is behind the campaign, said bullying can have an awful affect on young people.
"It can leave them feeling depressed, scared to go to school. It can lead to truancy, educational underachievement, to many many very difficult emotions for children and young people that can stay with them for a very long time, right into adulthood," he said.
He said Anti-Bullying Week is an important campaign to get everyone to talk about the issue.
"Bullying thrives on secrecy, it's something that thrives when it's hidden away and we don't talk about it and we don't bring it out in the open," he said.
He said the main message to anyone suffering is to tell someone and for any young person go to an trusted adult.
He added: "We do need you to bring it into the open and let us know about it, there's many different organisations you can talk to, different adults you can talk to and it's very important that you do talk to someone, only then can we do something to make a change."
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