Rachel Downie Stymie

The Stymie Spirit

Image source: Contributed

Bullies, trolls, reality TV, the Australian outback and years of hard slog to get an innovation in child protection off the ground: Rachel Downie is a capital ‘S’ Survivor. Bec Marshall shares her mission to empower people to leave a mark, not a scar.

Stymie. It’s a strange word. You don’t hear it much. And when you do, there’s an urge to search the thesaurus for a reminder, or a discovery, of what it means.

Clues come in nouns and verbs: stalemate, standoff, deadlock, bewilder, confuse, hinder, block, thwart, frustrate, stupefy, bamboozle and stop.

If you’ve ever had, or known of, a child who has died by suicide or been bullied, abused, self-harmed or discriminated against, suddenly that word ‘stymie’ – and every single one of its meanings; is not strange at all. It’s the only right word to use. 

The trick is the timing. When to use those words to fuel an action that has the fate-changing power to cancel a tragedy and stop all its awful consequences from rippling across lives. 

Can you stymie harm before it goes too far? Can you say something before it’s too late? Can you stop kids from getting hurt? 

Rachel Downie, the creator and CEO of Stymie, with a capital S, knows without a doubt that with her online harm reporting platform for young people – you can. 

“I received an email from a student last week that said ‘thank you for saving my life’,” Rachel said from her Buderim home. “It was anonymous and that was all that was said. 

“Parents ring me or find me on social media, and they tell me they had no idea their son or daughter was engaging in these behaviours, but they know now because of the Stymie notification, and now they can help them,” she said.

“With Stymie, we haven’t just built a piece of technology, we’ve built a community. We put a human face on it and we build relationships with schools and young people. What we’re trying to do is to get kids to say something. 

“In a funny way, I actually don’t want them to use Stymie. I would prefer they had the courage to find a responsible grown up who will listen and help them access the services they need; or to say ‘I need some help’ or ‘this person needs some help’ – but unfortunately that’s not the land we live in.”

Hundreds of schools across Australia, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates are subscribed to use the Stymie notification system. Rachel, a teacher for 30 years, is particularly proud of the 100% subscription renewal rate. 

To introduce the platform into a new school, Stymie presenters visit in person on launch day and speak to each year level about empathy, kindness and how to use the platform “respectfully and honourably”.

Students log in and fill out a short online form to make a notification about themselves or someone else. They can
be anonymous and once submitted, notifications are encrypted and sent to the school to investigate and follow-up. 

“Last year we delivered 66,000 notifications,” Rachel said. “About 25,000 were about bullying, the rest of them were about family violence, sexual harassment and assault; cyber bullying, self-harm, suicide ideation and discrimination.

“That’s 66,000 times over the last 12 months a young person reached out for help for themselves or somebody else.

“This year, it is almost double that. That’s not because we have double the amount of schools, COVID has spurred this silent pandemic with mental health. I don’t think we have experienced the fullness of that in our youth here in Australia yet.

“This year I have seen some of the worst cases I have seen in my 30-year career of peer-to-peer harm in schools. At the centre of it has been the sharing of it on social media, so that shame is exacerbated and almost infinitely repeated, which makes it horrific.

“A lot of kids are finding it hard to feel hopeful. And that’s deeply concerning because hope pulls us out of places that we sometimes find ourselves in.”

Rachel’s advice to parents or carers worried about their kids?

“All we can do is talk to them and know that we are always available for them to speak with us,” she said. 

“Speaking up is important but we don’t model this for kids very well. We need to get to a place where we can say to our mate ‘look, I love you, we’ve been friends forever but your racist joke or your homophobic joke? I’m not putting up with them anymore’. 

Undone, the name of a ceramic sculpture by a Year Nine boy who died by suicide. Photo George Serras, National Museum of Australia

“We have to model that courage and resilience to let them know to say it is ok to say something, and there is a way to say things that is kind and assertive.

“I started a hashtag called #nohateheremate. It lets that person know they’re out of line.

“Australians suck at that, we enable poor behaviour every day. That’s why one in five women experience sexual harassment and one woman every nine days is killed by a current or former partner.

“We are asking kids to do big things, but we seem to lack the courage to model that for them. It’s great to have a conversation, but is that translating into supportive action?”

Rachel’s advice to kids to create a kinder world?

“If they see something, they need to say something,” she said.

“Listen to your gut. Those butterflies in your tummy? That’s your body telling you that you need to do something or that something is not right. Even if you are afraid, do it anyway.

“Also, ‘stop’ and ‘no’ are complete sentences, they don’t need explanations.”

In 2022, Rachel plans to grow Stymie to have presenters in every state, develop an online launch module that retains that personal touch and to add an after-hours helpline to Stymie to enable kids to speak to someone whenever they need to.

 Stymie won the Sunshine Coast Business Award Health and Wellness (small) in November. In the same month Rachel received the University of Southern Queensland Alumnus of the Year and Outstanding Alumnus in Education awards. Rachel, who was the Queensland Australian of the Year in 2020, was also a contestant in the most recent season of reality TV show Survivor. She finished 10th, was the oldest person in the group, confirmed George was as annoying in person as he appeared on screen and said the experience was “heaps of fun”.

“I would do it again in a blink. I learned a lot about myself and my life.” 


A handmade ceramic bird with a broken wing sits in Rachel Downie’s office.  

It’s a colourful, tangible motivator that encourages her to keep going with her work.

But it has a story that breaks just as many hearts as it inspires. 

The hands that made that bird belonged to a Year Nine boy Rachel taught in art.

He died by suicide, permanently ending the bullying at school and the hard times at home.

Amidst grief, shock and anger over the missed ‘if onlys’, Rachel came up with the idea for Stymie.

“He was such a gentle, kind and loving young man,” Rachel said. 

“I guess that’s why he got targeted, he didn’t know how to stick up for himself and he didn’t have peers who were prepared to do that for him.

“Looking at that bird every day, knowing that if we had that information about that young boy ahead of time, my gut, my heart and my brain still tells me every day that he’d still be here – that’s what kept me going.

“I didn’t want this to happen to another community. 

“I think he would be just happy that there was an opportunity for others to get some help – even though he couldn’t get it himself.”

WATCH THE VIDEO ANIMATION On a Thursday in May to hear Rachel talk more about the boy who inspired Stymie.


About the Author /

[email protected]

Deb has 25+ years' experience providing strategic communications and brand reputation advice to clients in the government, business and not-for-profit clients. She is passionate about Noosa and is an active member of her community, providing PR to Slow Food Noosa and other clients. Her passion lies in working with small businesses to help them succeed. She is planning to release the Tastes of Noosa cookbook with Matt Golinski in 2019.

Post a Comment

Want more? Subscribe!

Get the latest news delivered fresh to your inbox!

Want to list your business?

Contact us to find out how! Contact us

SAVE THE DATE! 9 December, 9am-3pm @stevensstreetgallery for their Christmas Market!

Discover 20+ makers showcasing unique art, ceramics, jewellery, and more from the region`s finest artisans.

Shop local and creative this Christmas for the perfect gifts. Don`t miss free workshops and entertaining programs.

Every purchase supports local artists and boosts the creative community. A festive day trip awaits, filled with creative spirit!

Join @headspacemaroochydore for a powerful workshop - Work on Your Worries

Is anxiety holding you back? Let`s break free! If negative thoughts are on repeat or decision-making feels like a challenge, this workshop is your game-changer. Hosted by the amazing headspace GP, Dr. Amanda.

When: Monday, December 11th, 2-4pm
Where: YouConnect Hub (Warehouse) @ headspace Maroochydore

Ready to reframe those thoughts and conquer anxiety? Register now via the link in the bio or call 5409 4900 and kick those worries to the curb!

Get ready to time-travel through art history @caloundraregionalgallery ! From 8 December, 2023, to 21 January, 2024, join the ultimate print party curated by Kyoji Takizawa from the Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts!

Dive into the wild world of ten artists who flipped the script on contemporary art using prints in the 1970s!

Thanks to the magic of the Japan Foundation, Sydney, and the Consulate-General of Japan, Brisbane, this show is an art extravaganza you won`t want to miss!

Time to rediscover prints and redefine your art journey! (link in bio)

Get ready for a festive double feature at @eumundimarkets !

Friday 8 December - Christmas Night Market from 4-8pm! Immerse yourself in the holiday magic with dazzling lights, festive treats, and a FREE climbing wall for the kiddos!

Then, on Saturday 9 December at 9am, join for a Saturday Market day like no other! Join the Christmas Card Workshop – a merry morning of creativity, crafts, and spreading holiday cheer!

Mark your calendars for a weekend of joy and jolly vibes!

Get ready to jingle all the way at the 59th Annual Peregian Beach Carols – the Coast`s OG carolling extravaganza on Wednesday 20 December.

This year, the dynamic trio of @peregianfamilyandfriends , @thevillageperegianbeach and @peregiansurfclub are teaming up to make your holiday season merry and bright in Peregian Park!

What`s on the festive menu?
- Live beats and carol classics by local bands, solo stars, and dynamic duos
- Foodie delights and artisan stalls to snag those last-minute Christmas goodies
- Kid-friendly fun, including face painting for the little elves
- A special sky-diving Santa soaring onto the beach (around 6pm, weather ready!)
- And hold onto your reindeer hats for a surprise grand finale at 8pm!

To unwrap all this awesomeness, just throw in a jolly $15 per family – covering EVERYTHING, from tunes to the main man himself, Santa!

Let`s make it a Peregian party to remember – see you there! (link in bio for tickets)

Sleigh bells are ringing! Have you booked your spot yet?

Join us @coolumbeer on Thursday, 7 December, as the @coolum_business_and_tourism community jingle and mingle to celebrate the merriest time of the year!

Let`s wrap up the year with a dash of holiday cheer and join your Coolum Business and Tourism community for an unforgettable evening, marking the official start of the silly season!

Secure your ticket now for a holly, jolly time by clicking the link in our bio!

Date: Thursday, 7 December, 2023
Time: 5:30pm - 8:00pm
Location: Coolum Beer Co. | Unit 1, 2 Junction Drive, Coolum Beach QLD 4573

Tickets: Members $35.00 | Non-Members $45.00