Anxiety, stress, depression, suicide, isolation; the physical health of students has always been taken seriously in schools, but mental health is often overlooked. Excused absences from schools across the nation require “legitimate excuses,” and this list rarely acknowledges mental breaks.
A project started by a group of politically active teenagers turned into a law passed in the state of Oregon, leading Utah to do the same. Under the law, students can take up to five excused absences in a three month period, which can be either a sick day or a mental health day. However, anything beyond that will require a written excuse from a doctor or professional. Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult initiatives for National Alliance on Mental Illness, stated, “The days off not only give students a chance to speak up about their needs, but help break the stigma associated with mental health.”
This is a huge stepping stone that the two states have taken, and it’s essential for other states, including our own, to pursue.
A sweeping issue in our society is teen suicide. A 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that suicide is the second-most leading cause of death in people age 10-34. The symptoms of suicide aren’t always evident; it can be hard to tell if someone’s going through it. Social media and the internet’s resources can also contribute to making this condition worse for teens, if not treated.
Teen mental health stigma is a pressing matter. Teens may sometimes sound more irritated or angry, have feelings of worthlessness, be extremely sensitive to others’ comments, and withdraw from social situations. If a student is making up excuses to stay home from school, it may very well be because of a battle that they’re fighting mentally. Instituting a law around this absence, like the two states, can definitely bring these issues to light.
How can we, as a community, help? As a teen, I find that we are more comfortable being vulnerable with our peers, rather than the teachers, guardians, parents and school staff in our lives. If we can have deeper conversations around these issues and support each other, I believe that we can start seeing mental health as a valid reason to miss a day of school. Mental health can’t be considered a taboo subject anymore, and we need to talk about it. Together, we can work on making mental health, a legitimate excuse for absence in our state.