The telltale ding of one particular text message tone still transports Kate Everett straight back to a spring day in 2017 driving along a country road with her teenage daughter Dolly.

They were making the long trip into town from their remote cattle station near Katherine, NT, when they came into phone service and 14-year-old Dolly's phone began to chime with the sound of incoming text messages during the September school holidays.

"I remember it clear as day hearing that sound and then she just stiffened and I said 'what's going on' and she said 'oh nothing, nothing'," Kate said.

"That moment in hindsight should have been the one where I pulled off to the side of the road, stopped the car and just said, 'Talk to me, tell me what's going on.' "

Dolly's parents Kate and Tick and sister Meg want every parent and carer, sibling and friend to have "that" conversation with their loved ones.

It's the tough conversation they wish they'd had with Dolly, who tragically took her own life just months later in January 2018 after relentless bullying.

In the wake of Dolly's death, the Everett family started Dolly's Dream - an anti-bullying organisation dedicated to stamping out bullying and giving a voice to those in need.

 

Dolly Everett’s family are ensuring her death wasn’t in vain.
Dolly Everett’s family are ensuring her death wasn’t in vain.

 

Every year in May they hold Do It For Dolly Day and encourage people to wear blue - Dolly's favourite colour - be kind and fundraise to help support the organisation's anti-bullying programs.

This year on Do It For Dolly Day, the Everett family want people to learn about the common signs of bullying and use the day as an icebreaker to start those tough conversations with their loved ones.

Dolly's death was a gut-wrenching shock for her parents and big sister Meg. She had told them nothing of her struggles at school or of the dark thoughts she was having.

In hindsight they say she showed signs she was being bullied but nobody connected the dots until it was too late, with many of the changes in her demeanour put down to typical teenage behaviour.

"I never realised or even thought about it then but now that I've had time there were definitely changes," Dolly's father Tick said.

"You spend many a night laying there thinking and wondering and asking yourself when it changed and how it changed.

"You can't put everything down to growing up and puberty and being a teenager and all the rest of it.

 

Kate and Tick Everett with daughter Meg and their horses at home on the family property near Katherine. Picture: Lachie Millard
Kate and Tick Everett with daughter Meg and their horses at home on the family property near Katherine. Picture: Lachie Millard

 

"There were signs there I wish I had taken more seriously really."

One of the red flags Tick says was when Dolly stopped participating in sports.

"She was sport mad whether it was cricket, rugby, running, hurdles, whatever, she was a fit, active girl and then that sort of stopped for a while, there was a big break in it, she wasn't keen on doing it," he said.

"Now the more I think about it she wanted to do it but she didn't want whatever negativity was coming from it or the body shaming or the crude comments or whatever.

"She didn't want that but I think by her dressing the same in her rugby shorts or running singlet was a sign she still wanted to do it and I think I completely missed that."

Tick said Dolly also lost some of her trademark wit and humour.

"She was always cheeky, there was always a joke or a one liner to drop in any conversation no matter what and she seemed to lose that for a little bit there," he said.

"Once again you think she's a little bush kid, likes a bit of comedy and banter and she goes to boarding school and it's obviously a bit different and the jokes aren't recognised in that environment so I just put it down to her trying to fit in."

Mother Kate said she noticed changes in the way Dolly would use devices like her phone - varying between being secretive while using it and stopping use altogether.

 

Dolly Everett (left) with family
Dolly Everett (left) with family

 

"There were changes in her friendship circles and that could happen a couple of times a term just jostling from one group to another which, I think, then in turn gave way to mood swings where she would be really up and then really down or showing signs of anxiety," Kate said.

"And then I would notice changes in her eating habits, she would come home on school holidays and barely eat and then it would take a good few days and she would be back to cooking and eating like normal."

Dolly's family hopes sharing their story, will help other families recognise the signs and have the tough conversations like the one Kate wishes she'd in 2017 when Dolly received those text messages.

"There's so many factors that may have changed the outcome for Dolly," Kate said.

"I guess that's our aim with Dolly's Dream is to make sure these parents have the tools to get through this.

"Recognise the signs that can come with bullying, be open to that conversation and if your child is being bullied stay calm and let them know they've done the right thing by speaking up.

 

 

 

 

"They were probably the most obvious signs that something was really going on."

It is Dolly's family's hope that by sharing their heartbreaking story, it will help other families recognise the signs and have the tough conversations like the one Kate wishes she'd had on the side of the road in 2017 when Dolly received those text messages.

"There's so many factors that may have changed the outcome for Dolly," Kate said.

"We want parents and carers to know there is help out there, I guess that's our aim with Dolly's Dream is to make sure these parents have the tools to get through this.

"Recognise the signs that can come with bullying, be open to that conversation and if your child is being bullied stay calm and let them know they've done the right thing by speaking up."

Do It For Dolly Day is this Friday, May 14. To get involved, register an event and for resources for parents and kids, visit dollysdream.org.au

 

 

Originally published as Dolly's legacy: The seven signs of a teen at risk of suicide



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