*Trigger warning: This blog post talks about suicide and content may be upsetting*

We have been incredibly saddened to hear the news about Rio Allred, a 12 year old girl with alopecia, in the USA, who was struggling with bullies and decided to take her own life. At Alopecia UK we would like to express our condolences to Rio’s family.  We cannot begin to imagine what they must be going through. The hearts of the whole alopecia community, around the world, are sending love and strength to you at this time.

As an organisation working to improve the lives of those affected by alopecia, we know how upsetting this news is for the alopecia community to hear.  It feels like losing one of the family.  We have seen an outpouring of posts on Instagram and Facebook. Many will relate to Rio’s struggles from their own experiences, thoughts and feelings.  It is difficult news for us all to get our heads round.  But it is important to acknowledge, and also consider, what can be done differently to prevent it from ever happening again. 

There is no place for bullying in 2022.  Schools must do whatever they can to prevent this from ever happening again.  From talking to young people in the UK we know that the school environment was one of the main places they wanted help to try and improve things.  Many young people told us their teachers didn’t have the understanding needed to make their everyday school life easier.  As a result of this feedback, we developed our Schools Pack.  The aim of which is to educate classmates and teachers about alopecia to try and create a more understanding and empathetic environment for the child or young person with alopecia. 

We know that many of the young people we work with have gone into school and delivered assemblies and class presentations using the Powerpoints provided in our Schools Pack or they have shared our videos like our interview with Matt Lucas, our 'Talking about alopecia' and 'How to answer questions about alopecia' animations or our ‘Shedding’ short-film. It can be difficult to put the experience of alopecia into words to tell classmates, so we have created resources to try to help with this.  We have also got story books to try and raise awareness at a younger age.  The more we educate children and young people, the more we raise awareness, the more we hopefully break the stigma.  We know this won’t fix everything, but we hope it makes a difference in some small way.  All these resources and more can be found in the Children and Young Person section of our website.

We also try to provide opportunities for young people to meet others and not feel alone with their alopecia.  Meeting others and realising you are part of an awesome group of very strong people can make a huge difference in how a young person feels about their alopecia. Our events provide you with the opportunity to meet others. For example, our Alton Towers event is coming up in April.  Our face to face groups are getting off the ground again.  We have our Kids Camp in August.  We also organise online meet-ups for children and teens

Many young people who attend Alopecia UK groups and events make friends that they can stay in touch with. Having an alopecia buddy can really help you as you both travel through tricky times together and have someone there who just gets it.  You are not alone in this.  There are so many of us out there and we are a supportive bunch.  We all get it, we all know how tough it is.  Together we have a shared strength.

Together we can all keep fighting for change and giving people what they need to improve the environment around them.  We can’t do it for Rio, but we must do it for every child, young person and adult with alopecia.

Rio, we hope you are now at peace.  We wish things had been different for you, but you will forever be remembered and you will drive much change around the world.  We must be kinder to one another. #riosrainbow

Rio’s family are in the process of setting up a non-profit organisation, Rio’s Rainbow, to bring awareness and support to their community against bullying and we wish them all the best with this.

Support & Signposting

If you are someone with alopecia, or a parent of a child with alopecia, it is likely this news has brought up some difficult feelings. This could be because of things going on in your life right now, or perhaps things in the past. Perhaps you are a parent worried about your child. We want you to know that we are here. If you want to talk about the impact of alopecia, you can join one of our groups and meet others or speak to one of the charity team. You are not alone. Be kind to yourself, this news can feel overwhelming and if that’s the case for you make sure you practice some self-care. Ring a family member or friend and let them know how you are feeling so they can support you – trust us, people want to be there, the hardest part is letting them know.

We want to end this blog by making you aware of other support services which are available to you. We know that seeking support can feel difficult. Taking the first step is often the hardest but there are many people and services out there who want to help. You might be someone who has had a difficult experience when trying to find support – our advice is to try again, please. No one size fits all and there will be other support options for you to try.

Crisis Support - If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts and you feel unsafe you need to access support straight away. You should call 999 or go to your nearest accident and emergency department.

Non-crisis support - Other options for support

  • You can also make an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you are feeling. If you are feeling overwhelmed and struggling with your mood, you can ask for an emergency appointment. A GP can advise you on helpful treatments, help you access mental health services or provide information on how to self-refer. 
  • Get advice from NHS 111- if you need support with your mental health but it is not an emergency. 111 will tell you the right place to get help if you need to see someone. 
  • Ring or text a friend or family member. Often our friends and family are keen to help. We just need to let them know how we are feeling.  

Signposting to free listening services

  • Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They offer emotional support and a listening ear. Call 116 123. It’s a Freephone number, which can even be called from a mobile that has no credit, and the call will not appear on your phone bill. It’s totally confidential. 
  • SANEline is a specialist mental health helpline provided by mental health charity, Sane. You can call them on 0300 304 7000 between 4.30pm and 10.30pm each evening.
  • Shout is a text messaging mental health support service (text 'SHOUT' to 85258 to start)
  • If you are under 19, you can ring Childline– 0800 1111-  for help with any issue you are going through. They have trained counsellors who can provide support. 
  • For young adults aged 24 and under, you can text YoungMinds (text YM 85258; 24hr support), or call/email The Mix on: 0808 808 4994 (4pm – 11pm)/ email (24hr response time)
  • Kooth - digital mental health care available to all.

Signposting to organisations that support with bullying

A quick internet search reveals lot of organisations available to help with bullying.  Do take some time to find the right one for you and your needs.  Here are just three below:

  • Anti-Bullying Alliance - a coalition of organisations and individuals that are united against bullying.
  • Kidscape – offer practical support, training and advice to challenge bullying and protect young lives.
  • Bullies Out – provide help, training, support and information to individuals, schools, youth and community settings affected by bullying.