November 16, 2022
Schools offering mental health days for students have become increasingly common over the past few years. As reported on washingtonpost.com, since 2018, more than 12 states have passed or proposed bills that would allow school districts to treat days missed for mental health issues the same way they treat absences for physical health issues.
Jill Cook, Executive Director, American School Counselor Association stated that these measures are a response to the youth mental health crisis. She was quoted on washingtonpost.com saying, "Even before the pandemic, we knew that anxiety was on the rise . . . And we also know that the pandemic just exacerbated some of that for many students."
For children who do take mental health days, it is important that their parents are aware of the situation, and that they work to ensure that these days off are proactive and actually serve their purpose. Mary Alvord, a Clinical Psychologist in Rockville, MD, was quoted saying, "Our mental state is directly related to how we do in school. So, we don't want to send a really distressed or really depressed kid if they can't handle it . . . But you have to do something. It has to be proactive." Alvord recommends that mental health days be devoted to learning about discomfort and uncertainty, and learning how to cope with that, rather than retreating from whatever is troubling the child.
Concerns have also been raised about children abusing this ability, saying they need to take a mental health day when they have a test the next day or an unfinished project due. Jill Cook was again quoted, saying, "The trick . . . will be to ascertain whether it is truly a need to rest and recharge as opposed to school avoidance or test avoidance or something else that might be more significant going on where a mental health day is not the solution." Nekeshia Hammond, a Clinical Psychologist in Brandon, Florida, highlights the fact that there have always been children who try to game the system.
Editorial Note: NJAMHAA is pleased to see that school administrators and educators and state legislators recognize the substantial impact that mental health has on students' academic performance, which is also true for adults' effectiveness in their jobs and other roles. NJAMHAA is taking this opportunity to reinforce the importance of focusing on mental health specifically - not "mental illness" - to help strengthen ongoing efforts to eliminate stigma, which is one of the most common reasons why individuals do not seek help for depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges that may be interfering significantly with their lives. It is essential for mental health to be recognized as an integral part of overall health and wellness and to encourage constant focus on mental health through self-care, including taking mental health days when needed.
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