Imagine going to school, and everyone around you is upset. You find out a classmate has taken their own life due to bullying. You think, if someone could’ve just talked to them, maybe it wouldn’t be this way.
Senate House Bill #263 aims to make sure this situation happens less by combating bullying to decrease the rate of suicide in youth and across our state.
The bill went into effect July 1, 2017. The anti-bullying bill serves to incorporate mandatory training for Mississippi school counselors and staff help prevent bullying and to detect possible signs of suicide.
The bill is requiring all schools in Mississippi to train and update the staff and counselors yearly regarding bullying and suicide prevention. It does not include Ole Miss because universities have their own policies.
Section 1 of the bill states that, “no student or school employee shall be subjected to bullying or harassing behavior by school employees or students,” and that, “a student or volunteer who has witnessed or has reliable information that a student or school employee has been subject to any act of bullying or harassing behavior should report the incident to the appropriate school official.”
Pamela Smith, board member of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention in Northeast Mississippi, stated in a press release addressed to the Mississippi School Superintendents that the bill is an important step in the fight against suicide.
“You now know that suicide is preventable and it is imperative that we continue to work together to save the lives in our state and across our nation,” she said.
Joi Fisher, a school teacher for kids in 7-12 grades in the Mississippi Delta, agrees that the bill is a positive change for schools in Mississippi.
“I think training is necessary especially for teachers to understand acceptance and learn things about other cultures to cut down on bullying and other things,” she said.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in Mississippi and the third leading cause of death in people between ages 15 and 24.
Haven Harris, a third grade teacher at Grenada Elementary School, says that requiring training for situations like this will be a great help to the school system and the community.
“So much of bullying nowadays takes place online and away from school that it can be hard for teachers to actually witness the bullying happening in the classroom or on the playground,” she said. “It would be very beneficial for teachers to be aware of those signs so they can get those students help without causing a scene of it, because sometime that tends to make the situation even worse.”
The Mississippi Department of Mental Health will be responsible for training and will help school personnel develop the skills necessary to determine the signs of bullying.
Smith believes that the students will benefit the most from this bill as it acts as an advocate for both anti-bullying and suicide prevention.
“School staff has a responsibility to protect these kids and they have no reason now to tell me they didn’t recognize the signs,” she said. “We’ve got to work together and make sure the resources are readily available.”
Smith says that the biggest thing she wants people to take from the bill is that it is about helping.
“I want people to know that there are people out there that care and that will support you,” she said.
If you or a friend is having thoughts of suicide, please call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255