More states allowing students to take mental health days

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By , WWJ Newsradio 950

As the U.S. continues to deal with a youth mental health crisis, more schools in the country are allowing students to take mental health days.

In December, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy issued an advisory to address “the nation’s youth mental health crisis,” amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Just last month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data that showed that children in the country experienced poor mental health even before the pandemic.

After the pandemic began, a Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago survey found that 71% of parents said their children’s mental health had taken a toll due to the pandemic; and a national survey of 3,000 high schoolers found that one third were unhappier and more depressed than usual. Around 70% of schools who participated in a federal study conducted in April said more students have sought mental health services since the pandemic started.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), one way lawmakers have tried to help children and teens dealing with mental health issues is including mental and behavioral health issues on lists of allowed absences.

Utah is one of the states that has stipulated that taking care of mental health is an acceptable reason for missing school. Maine has also included mental health to its list, as well as Illinois, where “students who use a second mental health day may be referred to the appropriate school support personnel.”

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Virginia are other states that allow mental health absences. Measures have also been introduced in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia as of this year. Different states have different numbers of days allowed and different stipulations.

Indeed, there is still ongoing discussion about what mental health days off from school are and when they can be allowed, said the NCSL. According to the Child Mind Institute nonprofit dedicating mental health days off should help students rest and recharge, not to avoid completing assignments or situations that make students feel uncomfortable.

“Allowable reasons might include relationship struggles, performance pressure, family trauma, and existing mental health conditions,” said the NCSL of the organization’s description.

In addition to allowing students to take days off from class, the American Rescue Plan Act passed in March, 2021, included $170 billion for school funding that many schools have used to hire mental health workers such as psychologists, said the American Psychological Association.

“The more we can shift to a prevention mindset and integrate mental health promotion into schools from a young age, I see that as very key to helping reduce the needs for treatment that we see in young people,” said Tamar Mendelson, director of the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, according to NPR.

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