By Staff Writer Mingxin Wang
The prevalence of mental health issues has become a global crisis impacting millions of people, especially youth and teenagers. According to the World Economic Forum, half of all mental disorders begin by the age of 14. In the US, only 41% of those who have experienced a mental disorder in the past year received professional health care from services such as psychologists, counselors, and therapists, often leading to untreated depression and anxiety. The number of reported mental health cases has increased by more than 50% since 2008.
“In the US, only 41% of those who have experienced a mental disorder in the past year received professional health care from services such as psychologists, counselors, and therapists…”
In July, Oregon passed a law allowing students to take five excused absences every three months as mental health days, following a similar law Utah passed last year. Lawmakers approved the bill after immense pressure from student activists and lobbyists. With Oregon’s suicide rate at 40% above the national average, the law was passed, with the hope that students would be encouraged to voice their mental health struggles and practice proper self-care.
While the majority of students have expressed support for the law, there has been backlash from parents who believe it will give students who misuse their privileges an excuse to skip class.
In response to critics of the new law, Hailey Hardcastle, an 18-year-old student who helped lobby for the bill, said, “Students are going to take the same amount of days off from school with or without the new law, but they might be less likely to lie about why they’re taking take a day off if schools formally recognize mental health in their attendance policies.”
Implementing excused mental health days in schools fosters a safe atmosphere where students can discuss personal struggles with their parents, counselors, and teachers, with less fear of judgement. Because youth activists are taking a stand for an issue ignored by most legislators, schools across the nation are taking strides to destigmatize mental health issues. By passing the mental health law, schools in Oregon and Utah are acknowledging the increasing need for mental health resources on campus. Mental health disorders are now being treated more like physical ailments, and school staff members around the nation are being trained to address the everyday stresses students face from academic expectations. In an effort to expand mental health care services, California’s School-Based Health Alliance, an on-campus mental health care program with full-time therapists, now provides support to over 250 schools. According to The Washington Post, “Therapists are in schools every day, allowing them to engage students, their parents and school staff simultaneously. This equips school faculty with mental health training and gives students constant access to care.”
“Implementing excused mental health days in schools fosters a safe atmosphere where students can discuss personal struggles with their parents, counselors, and teachers, with less fear of judgement.”
Mental health is a concern of much significance in MSJ’s notoriously stressful and competitive environment. If a similar law is passed in California, it would increase teachers’ and the administration’s awareness of mental health illnesses, and prompt schools to provide students with more accessible resources such as therapy and counseling. The law would encourage a more open dialogue about mental health on campus, allowing students to feel more comfortable speaking about about their experiences and struggles.
Unfortunately, the bill could also result in students abusing the law to just stay home and finish a project or study for a test, especially given MSJ students’ emphasis on academics. The bill can, however, be modified to require students requesting mental health absence excuses to consult with their counselor beforehand. Requiring students to consult with their counselor could allow students to receive professional help and allow counselors to recognize potentially dangerous situations and address them accordingly. If properly utilized, mental health days can provide students with much-needed breaks from daily stressors and an opportunity to evaluate possible underlying issues regarding their mental health.
Do you think MSJ students would benefit if California passed a law allowing students to skip school for mental health days?
“Yes, as the mental health days would help reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues at MSJ. However, since there would likely be a problem with students abusing the law, I would maybe change the law to require that students who take a mental health day see a counselor.” — Julia Marcelis, 9
“I feel like MSJ students would benefit from this policy if it were enacted in California, but my concern is that teachers would not adjust their schedules or give students enough make-up time to complete their work.” — Audrey Yung, 11
Is there anything you would change about the law to make it more beneficial?
“Maybe make it a requirement to see a counselor once before requesting a day off for mental health reasons. This would limit people who try to abuse their privilege of mental health days.” — Alvin Tsui, 12
“I would probably add in proof as a requirement — proof that you have to miss school. It could be something like asking parents to call the school and state that there’s a mental health related problem … I think a call from their parents would be stricter and more effective to stop people from ditching without reason.” — Stuti Shah, 10
Graphics by Web Editor Gregory Wu