Helping kids to speak up with Rachel Downie

Queensland’s 2020 Australian of the Year Rachel Downie joins Your shout to discuss why children don’t feel empowered to speak up.

Listen to her story below.

 

Rachel Downie became a schoolteacher more than 25 years ago with the dream of helping children to flourish and realise their full potential.

Little did Ms Downie know her work in schools would deviate from art to teaching kids how to deal with their emotions and overcome bullying.

“I got into education because I wanted to be an amazing art teacher,” Ms Downie said.

“I had no idea I would be dealing with suicide, family violence, divorce and all sorts of highly emotional issues.

“It’s something as parents we worry about and, as teachers, we find quite overwhelming as the mental health of students has been in a downward spiral for some time.”

Ms Downie said the suicide of a student was the catalyst to her developing Stymie – a platform where students can anonymously report harm.

“A couple of years ago, one of my year nine students died of suicide,” Ms Downie said

“He was a great kid and I knew he was struggling, as did several other staff members, but despite making contact he wouldn’t open up and said everything was fine.

“I couldn’t uncover anything else from his peers either but, after he died, the students came forward with vitally important information

“It’s not the first time a suicide happened in my career, which is horrible in its own right. 

“But it’s the first time I felt it was preventable.”

Since Stymie launched in 2014, it has been presented to more than 300,000 students and has received more than 40,000 notifications from concerned students reporting family violence, bullying, cyber-bullying, depression, illegal activity, self-harm and more.

“When a school subscribes to Stymie, students can make anonymous notifications through an encrypted portal and can reach out and get help for themselves or a peer,” Ms Downie said.

“Over the years, Stymie has transcended the boundaries. 

“It was initially just for bullying, but kids have reported illegal activities in schools, family violence, sexual assault and reported mates who are partaking in high-risk behaviours.

“Most days, we receive a Stymie notification every four to five minutes, and the feedback we’ve received from schools about early warnings of suicide ideation has been incredible.

“I’ve had parents come to me and say, ‘we had no idea our daughter was self-harming and because of Stymie we were able to get her the help she needed.’”
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline (13 11 14) or Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800).

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