My teen daughter killed herself after vile school bullies called her fat and ugly every day – I didn’t know her torment until it was too late

My teen daughter killed herself after vile school bullies called her fat and ugly every day – I didn’t know her torment until it was too late

- in Usa News

GAIL McKinney loved listening to Demi Lovato and making her family laugh – often leaving them with sides which physically ached after giggling fits.

But throughout her time at secondary school she was hiding a crippling secret, as cruel bullies taunted her about her weight, calling her vicious names at every given opportunity.

Gail McKinney seen with her sister Jenna as a child. She was a happy girl, but school bullies gradually eroded her confidence
Paula McKinney

By the time her mum Paula, 51, realised just how bad things had got, it was too late. Five years ago Gail killed herself when she was just 16 years old, seeing no other way to end her years of suffering.

Tragically, Gail is one of a rising number of young girls who are resorting to suicide – new figures show that suicide rates among girls aged 10 to 24 have reached record levels, rising 83 per cent in the last six years.

In fact, 200 schoolchildren take their own lives every year – that’s four a week.

Campaigners warn young people are growing up in a pressure cooker, with school stress, social media and body image issues all playing a part.

Young girls feel they have to look like their Love Island heroes to have self worth – with vicious social media trolls only too happy to point out when their selfies don’t hit the mark.

Gail’s death came at a time her parents thought she was her happiest – but she was hiding her true feelings

“There’s an increasing pressure and expectation placed on young people,” Julie Cameron, Head of Programmes at the Mental Health Foundation, says.

“There’s pressure to conform and look and act a certain way, which means young people can’t be their true selves.

“Previously, they could leave school and go home and it would feel more of a safe haven.

“But even their bedrooms aren’t safe – there’s phones, tablets, computers – where they can worry about pressures.”

This week The Sun will be highlighting the issues young people are facing with a series of special articles to mark the first anniversary of our You’re Not Alone suicide prevention campaign.

We will be hearing from desperate parents, the teens who have been targeted by social media trolls and help you learn how to spot the signs your child could be in trouble.

Here, with the support of her husband David, 47, and their four other kids, Paula, 51, from Great Shelford, Cambridge, reveals the devastation of losing a child to suicide.

Gail was 16 when she killed herself, with her mum Paula so devastated she decided against burying her in case bullies targeted her grave
Paula McKinney

‘There’s no escape for kids’

While schools have always been rife with bullying, with any child who looks or acts differently a target, things have now become even more intense.

Girls feel the need to match up to the reality star idols they see on TV, with perfect hair and Instagram-ready make-up even when all that’s in store is a double maths lesson.

Anyone who doesn’t buy into that could be picked on, something Paula is only too aware of.

“When I used to drop Gail off at school I’d see all these girls going in with their hair immaculate, and their make-up done perfectly. But Gail didn’t want to look like them,” Paula recalled.

“She wouldn’t even straighten her hair if I asked.

“She said she didn’t look like them, she just wasn’t into that. And I’ll always remember her saying she shouldn’t have to change to fit in, that it was their fault not hers.”

Gail with her pal Aleigh, who told Paula she will have to live the whole of the rest of her life without her best friend

Targeted from 11

Gail was just 11 when she started getting bullied, relentlessly hounded by children when she started secondary school.

“Gail was the most amazing little girl you could ever see. She had such a wicked sense of humour, she would do anything for her friends and she was so cheeky,” Paul recalls.

“You couldn’t have got a better smile off anyone. Her face would light up – that’s what I miss the most.

“But when she went to secondary school it all started to change.

“She was bullied through her whole school life. She was short and chubby and they targeted her because she didn’t have a beautiful complexion, or a stick thin waist and long hair.

“They instantly homed in on her, calling her ‘fatty’, ‘ugly’, all sorts of names.

“Once someone threw some money at her and said, ‘Why don’t you go and get another cream cake, fatty?’

“And these days there’s no escape for kids either, none at all. They’re at home with their phones constantly going, Facebook, Instagram.

“Gail got tagged in a video of a kid being bullied by others, the little child was surrounded by about 20 kids as two or three picked on him.

“This is going on all the time, everywhere.”

The key signs your child is at risk of suicide

Mental health disorders don’t just affect adults, kids are at risk too.

Children as young as two are even said to be suffering, with the NHS previously stating one in eight kids has a mental illness.

Mental health problems can lead to suicidal thoughts, so here are the key signs to watch out for:

  1. Bad mood that won’t go away
  2. Tearful or emotional outbursts
  3. Lack of interest in fun things they used to love
  4. Feeling tired all the time
  5. Eating less or binge eating
  6. Trouble sleeping
  7. Lack of concentration
  8. Low self-esteem

‘She hid it from everyone’

While Paula can see all this looking back, what makes her story so devastating is that at the time she had no idea how much her daughter was suffering.

Gail hid much of what she was going through, playing down her torment as she was so worried about upsetting her loving parents.

“We never knew any of it until much later. She kept it to herself. She thought if she didn’t say anything they’d leave her alone, but they didn’t and gradually it built up,” Paula says.

“Day by day there were subtle little things we’d notice – she wouldn’t go out, she wouldn’t see her friends.

Gail’s mum Paula and dad David, who are still struggling to cope with their loss five years on
Paula McKinney

‘She tried to kill herself and I had no idea’

“Then one day she rang me from school, three boys had given her a letter.

“It wasn’t a nice letter.

“They said all the sexual things they wanted to do to Gail, what she had to do to them, and what I had to do to them as well.

“They even drew a box of tissues of how many they would have to use.

“It was disgusting, it was all about embarrassing Gail and making her feel small.

“She was only 14, she didn’t want to draw attention to herself. She was a bit chubby and she just wanted to be left alone.”

The letter was to prove a turning point.

It was the first time Paula and David realised how bad things had got, and the protective mum immediately spoke to the school about it.

They thought Gail had dealt with it, but now Paula realises there were signs things weren’t OK.

“After that she didn’t want to go to school anymore, and everything went downhill,” she says.

“Looking back, she stopped laughing.

“I remember one Christmas her sister bought her a Miranda Hart DVD. We were in the other room and we turned the volume down on the telly because we could hear Gail laughing and we hadn’t heard it in such a long time.

“We ended up getting her in to see a mental health specialist, and one day she brought out a letter for me to read – but she wouldn’t give it to me.

“I said I’d wait until she was ready, but that night I knew there was something in it I had to read.”

So strong was Paula’s intuition that something was badly wrong that she made Gail hand over the letter.

Although it started as a friendly note from daughter to mother, she will never forget her horror when she turned to the second page.

“She admitted she’d already tried to kill herself because she’d been bullied since year seven, when she was 11,” Paula recalls.

“It was the first I knew of it and it was horrific, realising she’d gone through that all on her own.

A childhood mental health crisis

Britain’s children are in the grip of a mental health crisis, as increasing pressure from school, social media and body image issues take their toll.

  •  200 schoolchildren take their own lives every year, that’s four a week
  •  Suicides of females aged 10 to 24 are now at record levels, rising 83% in the last six years
  •  A recent study for charity Young Minds found that 69 per cent of young people felt that body image had had a significant impact on their mental health
  • And 77 per cent said pressure from school or college had a significant impact on their mental health
  • The number of children aged 11 and under being referred to mental health units from school has risen 50% in three years

The Sun’s You’re Not Alone campaign is shining a light on teen suicide this week, in the hope raising awareness will save lives

Gail seen with her mum, dad and sibling when she was a little girl
Paula McKinney

A self-harm ‘contract’

“We hoped sharing what had happened was a step towards her recovery, but then she started self-harming.

“We had a contract made up that if she was to self-harm, I would have to see it to check if it needed medical treatment.

“No matter how we tried to help, Gail wasn’t right.

“Things had spiralled at school, eventually she moved into a special part of it for kids who were struggling.

“She had an amazing teaching assistant there – Mrs Evans, who was so supportive and caring. Without her I think we’d have lost Gail earlier.”

The teacher kept Paula and David informed of everything that was happening at school, which eased their minds.

Then Gail left and got a job at a cafe, with Paula sure they’d turned a corner.

Her daughter was like her old self – laughing and joking.

“We were thinking we were getting our old daughter back,” she says.

“But one weekend Gail was babysitting for my friend and she got a call asking her to come home.

“She got there and Gail had tried to kill herself.

“I flew round and we called for an ambulance, Gail was collapsed at the top of the stairs.

“Her heart stopped and they had to resuscitate her, then they got her in the ambulance and her heart stopped again.

“At hospital they did a scan and then they told us she was brain dead and there was nothing they could do.

“We thought she’d been the best we’d ever seen her, with her laughing and joking.

“But she was hiding it. She wasn’t coping. She was going downhill fast, but in front of us she was putting on a show.”


CREATING a safe and welcoming environment is an important part of addressing your child’s mental health problems.

  • set aside uninterrupted time with your child
  • create a safe place for them to talk
  • let them know that you are always there for them
  • let them know that they can talk about anything they are feeling
  • if they don’t want to talk straight away don’t push them
  • use gentle language like “I’ve noticed you have been sad lately, I am always here if you want to talk”
  • do not make it an inquisition by asking lots of questions like “why are you sad?” and “what is going on?”
  • encourage them to speak to a friend or teacher if they don’t feel comfortable talking to you

‘A man out there has her heart’

Paula’s voice cracks as she remembers being given that devastating news, and even now she doesn’t know how she found the strength to carry on.

“At first I didn’t want anyone touching Gail, I just wanted her left alone because she’d been through so much,” she recalls.

“But then we decided to donate her organs.

“There’s a man out there somewhere with my baby’s heart in him.

“And I had to come home and tell her little brother his sister wasn’t coming back.

“I couldn’t even bury my little girl; she had to come home because I was worried about leaving her on her own.

“We have her ashes inside and she’s got her own memorial garden outside our house – all because people thought it was funny to take the mickey out of my baby.”

Now, Paula has vowed to do anything she can to help other families with children who are being bullied.

She will do anything in her power to stop another parent having to deal with the pain that surges through her every day.

“I don’t want another mum to have to wake up on Mother’s Day and not hear her child say Happy Mother’s Day,” she says.

“The pain eases for them once they’re gone, no one can hurt them anymore, but the pain is 100 times worse for the people who are left behind.”

Gail loved Demi Lovato, making her family laugh and she would do anything for her best friend
Paula McKinney


EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide.

It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

  • CALM,, 0800 585 858
  • Heads Together,
  • Mind,, 0300 123 3393
  • Papyrus,, 0800 068 41 41
  • Samaritans,, 116 123
  • Movember,

Paula feels strongly that schools need to take steps to help children who are being victimised.

“Schools need to do more. They need to sit down with parents whose kids have been bullied and talk about how to help,” she says.

“And as parents, we must always be there, no matter what time of the day or night it is.

“If your child starts changing in front of you try to find a reason why. Talk to them, but don’t pressure them.

“Now school’s back, there’ll be another family somewhere being told their child has taken their own life because they were bullied.

“I hope and pray it doesn’t get that bad for any other child that this is the only way out.”


If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

  • CALM,, 0800 585 858
  • Heads Together,
  • Mind,, 0300 123 3393
  • Papyrus,, 0800 068 41 41
  • Samaritans,, 116 123
  • YoungMinds,, 0808 802 5544

After Gail’s death, her family discovered she had been talking to people who were struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts on Twitter.

The teenager would stay up into the early hours of the morning trying to comfort others who were struggling – something her family are fiercely proud of.

“She was talking to people about depression, being bullied and suicide,” Paula explained.

“She was talking people out of it, staying up all night. But she couldn’t talk herself out of it.

“How many mums have to go through what I go through every day before we do something about bullying?”

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please call the Samaritans (free) on 116 123

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