Less than two years ago, Hernando High senior Sarah Ball almost took her own life, and now she's helping other teens before they make such a final, fatal decision.
Sarah says online bullying started her sophomore year, with attacks that were shocking, hateful and relentless. They got so bad, she started cutting herself.
"They actually made fake accounts and said that I should go kill myself and that I'm a lost cause. That I have no purpose." Ball says. "It hit hard and so I was torn down basically. I was stripped of everything I felt good about."
It wasn't until her mother found some of the ugly emails that she finally got help.
"It was so easy to put me into that place, but it was so hard to climb back out of it," Ball said.
Now, she's helping other teens find the courage to speak up and fight back. Last year, she started "Hernando Unbreakable," an anti-bullying group at Hernando High School, where she's now a senior. The group's Facebook page has more than 450 fans.
"The reason I do what I do is to show kids there is a way out. You can overcome it and you can heal from it and you can potentially get something out of it and help others," Ball said.
Part of the problem is that the internet makes it so much easier for bullies to stay anonymous, and for their attacks stay online.
Teens are often so humiliated by what is being said, they're too embarrassed or ashamed to tell their parents or anyone else.
"Changes are the best thing to look for. They've been acting this way and all of the sudden this day or the last couple days they've been acting a little different. That's when it's time to start having a conversation about what's going on." says Tom Mueller, the suicide prevention coordinator for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
And experts say when you talk to them is just as important as what you say.
"Parents can say 'gee I noticed you haven't been yourself the last couple of days. Anything going on? What's happening?' And it's not a conversation to sit down across from the teen at the kitchen table and have. It's one to have while you're driving or doing the dishes, so they don't have to feel overwhelmed," Mueller said.
Ball says she went to great lengths to hide what she was going through.
"You're sitting there bottling everything up because you don't want the bullies to see that you're in pain because then you think they're just going to put you in more pain." Ball says.
Sarah says for her, the pain ended when she opened up to her mother. She just hopes other teens will do the same.
"Actually I was just reading the journal the other day that I wrote. And it says if you happened to be alive and still look back on this, I hope you're happier now. And it made me cry because I'm so much happier now," she said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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