Last January, Massachusetts’, and the world’s, attention was drawn to South Hadley when tragic events made the issue of bullying a front page story. The legislature acted quickly, passing and enacting new legislation designed to address the issue.
Earlier this week, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced guidance to assist schools in designing plans to respond to bullying.
In working to address bullying, we need to remember that mental health is an important component. Not only is there the obvious implications of the mental health impact on bullying victims, but there is a lesser-known and more uncomfortable component: in some cases, young people who engage in bullying have mental health needs of their own that are insufficiently addressed.
This is not to excuse bullying by any means – schools must do everything they can to ensure that their students have a safe environment in which to learn. However, we can’t effectively deal with bullies unless we are able to see the whole field – all of the factors that come into play to make a bully.
The Children’s Mental Health Campaign was pleased that the final version of the so-called Bullying Bill included language from Chapter 321 of the Acts of 2008 (the omnibus Children’s Mental Health statute) directing schools to follow the guidelines set up under Chapter 321 when developing a bullying policy.
We still have a long way to go when it comes to both bullying and mental health. But it is heartening to see that both the Legislature and the Patrick Administration recognize the significance of each and the interconnectedness of both.
The time is NOW to end bullying and reform the children’s mental health system!