When Speak Up Stay ChatTY founder Mitch McPherson designed his positive mental health program for schools, cyberbullying wasn’t part of the initial challenge.
However, 12 months on from delivering its program in schools, the issue of online bullying has emerged as one that is prevalent among adolescents and something the mental health and suicide prevention organisation wants to tackle.
“Our program focuses mainly on mental health but the link is that cyberbullying can have an impact on self-esteem and confidence,” Mr McPherson said.
“We all know what goes on at school but we don’t know as much what happens outside of school.”
Mr McPherson founded the organisation in 2013 to honour his brother Ty, who took his own life.
He said he shared his personal story of loss to encourage others to speak up and seek health when they have issues or are going through difficult times.
Cyberbullying might not be something that is traditionally part of the Speak Up Stay ChatTY program, but Mr McPherson said he was looking to add a section into the school program, after some feedback.
The Speak Up Stay ChatTY program was rolled out in schools during 2018 and offers a holistic approach to improving mental health for young people in grades 9 and 10.
“Our program is a holistic approach, we offer sessions simultaneously for parents and for teachers,” he said.
“For us to improve mental health broadly, the whole community has to be involved.”
Mr McPherson said there had been strong take-up of the program in Northern schools but hoped to increase that in 2019.
The organisation works with the Education Department to register and deliver the programs for interested schools.
Mr McPherson applauded the state government’s moves to fund programs like his own, that attempt to improve mental wellbeing in young Tasmanians.
However, he said recent steps to criminalise cyberbullying shouldn’t “be the only way” the issue is addressed.
Corrections Minister Elise Archer released the draft amendments to the Criminal Code in December, with the legislation open for public comment until February.
Mental health programs are only one way to tackle the issue of cyberbullying, but there are a number of programs and steps people can take to ensure cyberbullying is reported and actioned against.
One way is through the e-Safety Commissioner, which is a federally funded position established to tackle the issue of cyberbullying against young people.
The e-Safety Commissioner said cyberbullying was a “complex behavioural issue” and affects one in five Australians aged between 8 and 17.
The e-Safety Commissioner operates the world’s first and only legislated cyberbullying complaints scheme and can work to remove harmful bullying material from the internet.
E-Safety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant said the commission had responded to 1000 cyberbullying reports from young people and have a 100 per cent compliance rate across social media sites.
“From our experience, we know that removing harmful content helps prevent the re-victimisation and further trauma a child may experience if the content were to remain online,” Ms Inman Grant said.
“We also work with parents, schools and, where appropriate, the police, to get to the root cause of the issue.”
Ms Inman Grant said the e-Safety Commissioner welcomed any legislation that aimed to address the issue of cyberbullying in a more balanced way but believed a multi-faceted approach is needed.
“A multi-faceted approach including broad scale education programs is imperative to preventing this social and behavioural issue from occurring in the first place, rather than criminal sanctions along, that only apply after the damage has been done,” she said.
Ms Inman Grant said legislative responses to issues such as cyberbullying “need to be measured and fit for purpose” and federal legislation provided a safety net for young people while helping social media companies be more accountable for the actions that take place on their platforms.
The e-Safety Commissioner provides a range of online safety education resources to be used in the classroom and also provides advice for parents and carers. Any young person under the age of 18, or an adult authorised by the young person, can report cyberbullying online. It can also provide educational resources for parents and carers, to help guide their children.
- If you need help contact the kids' helpline on 1800 55 1800 or go online to www.kidshelpline.com.au or Lifeline on 13 11 14
While you're with us, did you know that you can now sign up to receive breaking news updates and daily headlines direct to your inbox. Sign up here.