Growing up, Paul Bates was an intelligent child who loved school, but Bates was also short and dark-skinned, which school bullies saw as a perfect target.
Years later, he still struggled with emotional issues from the intense bullying he faced throughout middle school and high school, and when he was 27, Bates committed suicide.
Unfortunately, Bates’ desperation and suicide is not unique. Victims of bullying are between two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by researchers at Yale University.
Video by Avery Franklin
In Tennessee, the numbers are equally disturbing. Tennessee was ranked the sixth worst state for bullying in a study from WalletHub, a personal finance website that has branched into producing research reports and surveys.
Audio by Avery Franklin.
Bullying takes many forms including name-calling. University of Memphis junior, Addie James, was a victim of what first started as simple name-calling but turned into harmful threats.
“I was an awkward looking child,” James said. “I had glasses since the first grade, and my teeth were all messed up. There was this one boy that used to pick on me all the time, for just about everything. It didn’t start to bother me until he started to talk about my family.”
After the bully threatened her family, James found her courage and decided to notify her teachers.
“I went to the office and I basically told on him,” James said. “We sat down with a counselor, and he apologized, and I just stared at him with this, like you’re getting what you deserved look.”
James said that despite the years of teasing and name-calling aimed at her, she learned some valuable lessons.
“I know how to stand up for myself now,” James said. “I know what to let go, and what things people are saying as jokes. I know what I need to take a stand on. I don’t take crap from no one.”
Unfortunately, name-calling and verbal bullying can lead to physical violence.
Kaylah Allen, a teacher at West Bolivar High School, witnessed an altercation when a senior bullied a freshman girl over a boy. The senior cornered the girl in bathrooms and even pushed her down the stairs.
“They started fighting right outside my classroom,” Allen said.
She explained the situation to the younger girl’s parents and suggested filing criminal charges against the 18-year-old for emotional stress and violence. “I wasn’t even allowed to speak on the incident without giving a detailed report to my district,” Allen said.
Now that bullying has extended to social media, it can be even harder to report and monitor.
Former school counselor turned assistant principal at H.W. Byers Middle School, Felicia Sharp, has noticed a change and spike in bullying.
“When I was younger, it was not called bullying. It was checking and teasing,” Sharp said.“However, it ended once you left school and went home. It never carried over. Now with bullying, there is social media, and kids can not get away from it.”
Rebecca Butcher also contributed to this story.