5 teens tell us what they think about mental health days in school

We asked students how they feel about the laws being passed around the country.

by Anika Nayak
|
Oct 10 2019, 7:00pm

In an effort to address the mental health crisis among Gen Z, states are taking action to pass laws that will allow students to take mental health days.

Last year, Utah included “mental or physical illness” as one of the reasons that a student could be officially excused for their absence from school. More recently, in July, Oregon passed a law that grants students five mental health days for each three-month period. As a result, more students are having open conversations about the importance of mental health, and they way their schools address it.

“Mental health days in school are vital for students with mental health concerns to support their well-being," said author, speaker, and psychologist Dr. Nekeshia Hammond. "When mental health days are provided, we are sending a message to students with mental health difficulties that we truly care and value their needs.”

i-D talked to high school students across the country to see what young people had to say about mental health and what they wish their schools would do to help.

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Aayushi, 16, San Jose, California

Do you think students at your school should be able to take mental health days? Why or why not?
Students at my high school should be able to take mental health days because high school is a pretty stressful time. There are academic, social, and extracurricular pressures on students, just to name a few. Mental health days send a message to students that one, the school acknowledges and cares for their wellbeing and two, taking a break to focus on your mental health is okay and important.

What would you change about the way schools address mental health issues?
Particularly, my school has implemented various measures to address student mental health such as the curation of presentations on wellness and the accessibility of resources such as mental health counselors, but I feel that a bigger step needs to take place. It is quite ironic how not only schools encourage students to sleep more, exercise often, and socialize to improve their wellbeing, but also are often a major cause for the students' mental health struggles in the first place. Schools need to showcase dedication to their students' mental health and prioritize mental health in an academic environment.

How do you see the policy of mental health days affecting you and your peers?
Honestly, I have never even heard of anyone in my classes discussing Oregon's mental health days, so I try my best to mention it to people whenever a conversation about mental health takes place. I think for one, the policy really spreads awareness about mental illness, and secondly, it sparks legitimate conversation about mental health policy.

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Sydney, 18, Charleston, South Carolina

Do you think students at your school should be able to take mental health days? Why or why not?
I absolutely think students should be able to take mental health days. Everyone has mental health just like they have physical health, and it is important to acknowledge that there can not be one without the other.

What would you change about the way schools address mental health issues?
The biggest thing I would change is the way school officials address mental health, which is something they often “shy away” from. It should not be a taboo to talk about, or even acknowledge mental illness among students. Mental health needs to be made a priority in order for teens to open up and seek support they may need. There is so much stress among teens with the pressures of school and then they are not given opportunities or guidance to help cope or manage that stress.

How do you see the policy of mental health days affecting you and your peers?
I definitely think that laws allowing mental health days would be greatly beneficial for not only myself, but also my friends. By building this time into our schedules, we can proactively take care of our mental health while simultaneously starting to erase the stigma surrounding mental health.

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Micah, 16, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Do you think students at your school should be able to take mental health days? Why or why not?
Since students in each grade level are taught on the same level, missing days of school would result in students falling behind. And since the mental health breaks are ones that they could take at any time, it would put teachers at a disadvantage as they would have varying levels of attendance in their class. In addition, I feel that mental health days used by students may be for reasons other than recreation and wellbeing, which is not the point of those days.

How do you think schools should address mental health issues?
I think high schools should invest in hiring more mental health and wellness counselors to decrease the student-to-counselor ratio. Then, students will be able to consult their school counselor more often for the mental health support they may need.

What do you hope for the future, regarding mental health laws in schools?
I do not think that mental health laws will be particularly effective in schools. On a larger scale, I believe private services in the market will be more useful to students. Therefore, I hope to see the absence of laws for mental health in schools across the country.

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Joel, 17, Dallas, Texas

Do you think students at your school should be able to take mental health days? Why or why not?
I do not believe students at my school specifically should have the option to take mental health days. If students with mental illnesses stayed home in isolation, there may be a chance that they could harm themselves as a result of their mental illness while alone rather than at school in a supervised environment. In addition, missing a day of school can further burden a student, which may result in greater stress and negative emotions.

Is your school supportive of allowing students to take mental health days?
At my school, every class (of around 40 people) is assigned a specific mentor/counselor. Therefore, each individual has access to one-on-one support. If a struggling student needs a mental health day, he or she can talk to his or her counselor, and they could be able to work something out through conversation. As a result, a student may be able to take a mental health day upon their personal request.

How do you see the policy of mental health days affecting you and your peers?
I do not see the policy of mental health days affecting me and my peers; as in my school, mental health days will be an option to the few with serious mental health struggles.

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Michael, 17, Denver, Colorado

Do you think students at your school should be able to take mental health days? Why or why not?
Yes, essentially I believe students should have the time to care for themselves. It is important we give students time for a safe space instead of forcing them to dry their tears for school. We can not focus in class unless we take care of ourselves. Currently, my school does not give students that option. School can be a trigger and a stressor to the development of mental illness.

How do you think schools should address mental health issues?
Schools need to address mental health issues by building an understanding between students and school employees. An empathy lens is necessary.

I know for me school was one of my biggest stressors. I would work long nights to provide for myself and my family. We were homeless but I knew that if I did not work then I wasn’t sure if I was going to eat the next day or not. No teacher has ever asked me why I would show up the next day slightly late, or why an assignment was turned in late instead I was either humiliated or penalized. Most black and brown children like myself come from impoverished and disadvantaged neighborhoods where trauma and PTSD is sadly never addressed. Therefore, I believe schools should address the importance of self care, and taking care of one’s mental health through healthy methods. Additionally, there needs to be a licensed mental health counselor inside of every school, free therapy and teachers that are not afraid to talk about mental health amongst students of color.

How do you see the policy of mental health days affecting you and your peers?
I believe this policy will greatly impact our education, and our learning ability inside of classrooms. Students will finally get time to take care of themselves and their mental health. Most importantly, every student—regardless of race, gender, or any background—will be taught that it is sometimes okay to step out to be able to step back in.

Tagged:
students
mental health
self-care
Gen Z