A victim of bullying for two years, 15-year-old Gisborne student Sharina Mayman has created a “banner pen” to tackle the issue in schools.
The banner pens contain anti-bullying and mental health information.
One thousand pens will be given to secondary students in the Macedon Ranges in the hope students will have the information they need in their hand, and will contact support services if they are bullied.
Bullying worse with technology
Sharina was bullied for two years in secondary school and said that in Year 7, she was bullied “just for being different”.
“I stood up for myself. I cut my hair really short and my whole year turned against me, and decided to call me names,” she said.
The bullying continued into Year 8 and when she started Year 9 in 2015, Sharina thought, “This is ridiculous; it needs to stop.”
Sharina’s experience is common, with Headspace, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, reporting that up to 46.8 per cent of Australian secondary school students have been bullied.
Despite anti-bullying campaigns, Sharina believes bullying has gotten worse with technology.
“When you’re at home you’re not safe,” she said.
“People go online now and bully; they create hate pages about people on social media.
“You turn on your phone and there could be 100 horrible messages about you from some random [person].
“It’s so vicious; you can get it everywhere.”
Panic attacks and days off school
The impact of bullying on Sharina’s mental health was significant.
She estimates she took two weeks off school in Year 7 having what she called “mental health days” and said she did not feel safe at school.
Sharina saw friends being bullied and saw the impacts of bullying on their mental health.
“They were having depression, anxiety, and running off to the toilet having panic attacks. That’s happened to me a fair amount of times,” she said.
A campaign targeted at youth can also send a message to the wider population.Chris Pearce, sponsor
Sharina believes bullying makes people doubt themselves and they often push the mental health impacts aside.
“People feel less confident and have no real sense of who they are anymore,” she said.
“Bullying and mental health is something you can’t push away. It’s serious and [you have to] learn how to deal with it. It can be life-threatening.”
In 2011, Victoria enacted anti-bullying legislation known as Brodie’s Law, punishable with up to 10 years in jail.
Brodie’s Law was introduced after the suicide of young woman Brodie Panlock, who was subjected to relentless bullying in her workplace.
From school project to corporate interest
Sharina originally made her anti-bullying banner as part of a school project.
Year 9 students at Sacred Heart College in Kyneton were required to create an object or learn a new skill, and document the eight-month process.
“I decided to do something that would help the community and help students,” Sharina said.
A national trucking company is one of the sponsors of the pens and plans to distribute them to its 280 drivers around Australia.
Red Star Transport general manager Chris Pearce said the banner pen was a worthwhile cause.
“I was a member of the Victoria Police for a long time and used to regularly deal with people who turned to self-harm and experienced mental health issues,” Mr Pearce said.
“A campaign targeted at youth can also send a message to the wider population.
“There’s bullying in a variety of workplaces, with bullying one of the key causes of mental health issues and suicide.”
Mr Pearce said truck drivers used a pen every day and could call for support information while they were driving, and “talk to people if they are feeling down”.
Sharina aims to produce 5,000 more banner pens when new sponsors come on board.
Macedon Ranges Shire Council awarded Sharina Young Citizen of the Year on Australia Day.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 1 February 2016.