“That dark point brought me to such a motivating place,” Mackenzie Murphy tells PEOPLE of her suicide attempt

By Erin Hill
February 17, 2017 10:06 AM
Joanne & Photography by Courtney Borgford

Seventeen-year-old Mackenzie Murphy knows first-hand the devastation bullying can cause. Growing up in Airdrie, Canada, the teen was bullied both online and in person.

In December 2012, the severe bullying she experienced culminated in an attempt to take her own life.

“That dark point brought me to such a motivating place,” she tells PEOPLE of her suicide attempt.

“I remember sitting on my hospital bed and my mom called me and told me that one of my friends was getting bullied for defending me. So I said, ‘Enough is enough, I’m no longer fighting this battle for just myself — I’m doing it for my entire community.’ ”

From that moment on, Murphy made a commitment to taking a stand against bullying and became the catalyst for the passing of an anti-bullying bylaw in her hometown in 2013.

Last year, Murphy learned she was nominated for the Diana Award, which is given out in the late Princess Diana’s name to young role models, ages 9-18 from across the world who are transforming the lives of others. (To nominate a young changemaker for this year’s Diana Award, which will be presented at a ceremony in London this May, click here.)

“My mom always looked up to Princess Diana, so I knew a lot about her,” Murphy says. “Diana stood up for what was right, she spoke out and defended people who felt alone.”

Courtesy Mackenzie Murphy

Murphy hasn’t slowed down since she received the award. She not only continues to speak out against bullying at rallies and marches, she has also became an advocate for mental illness awareness.

“A huge part of my platform is mental health and ending that stigma because when I was getting bullied I had an underlying mental illness that I didn’t know about,” she says.

In February 2015, Murphy was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a diagnosis that initially left her scared and confused.

“I was very much in disbelief,” says Murphy, who was admitted to the mental health ward a total of nine times. “I didn’t want to be on meds, I didn’t want to be that crazy kid. I’d ask myself, ‘Does this define who I am? Is this all I am? Will I never be able to have relationships?’

“It was really hard for me to say, ‘Okay, this is my diagnosis.’ It was a time for self-discovery.”

Murphy found strength in speaking out about the stigma of mental illness, and says she was inspired when she learned that it’s an important issue to Princess Kate and Prince William as well.

“It’s really inspiring as a teenage girl who is struggling with this to have people with such authority take it so seriously,” she says. “It honestly completely changed what I thought about mental illness.

“Seeing people like Will and Kate speaking out about the stigma is absolutely incredible and disproves all those things I thought when I was diagnosed. I’m not my illness by any means.

In addition to being a Diana Award recipient, Murphy currently holds the title of Miss Teen Alberta American Beauty 2016. She’ll compete for Miss Teenage Canada this summer.

Joanne & Photography by Courtney Borgford

“I wasn’t what you would think of as a pageant girl, but I looked into it and they really focus on community service and fundraising and having a passion, something that you really want to work towards, and I thought, ‘I do all of that already, I just don’t have a crown!’ ”

And when she completes her senior year of high school next year, she hopes to go on to study psychology.

“Above all else, I want to see myself making an impact.,” she says.

Nominate a young hero for the Legacy Award in memory of Princess Diana. If they’re chosen they could be one of 20 winners from around the world sent to London to receive their award in May. Submit your nomination here by March 17 at 5:00 p.m. GMT.