Do you ever wake up in the morning and feel anxious or depressed enough to want a day off from work or school? (Who hasn’t?)
Now, in recognition of increasing rates of anxiety and depression in young people, some states and school districts are offering students that opportunity. And in some places, students themselves have pushed for the change in policy.
Oregon and Utah are allowing students to take days off for mental-health reasons, and there are legislative proposals to do the same in California, New York and Florida. In addition, the Montgomery County school district in Virginia recently decided to allow students to cite mental health for an excused absence.
In Montgomery County, a group of students lobbied the school board for months before the vote late last year, WDBJ-TV reported.
“It feels so good to finally have it actually implemented and see some real steps toward making changes in our county,” Blacksburg High School senior Carson Hopkins told the station.
What appears to be a trend is occurring at a time when the suicide rate among young Americans has been rising.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in October that the suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 was stable from 2000 to 2007 but increased by 56% between 2007 and 2017 – with the pace of increase greater from 2013 to 2017 than from 2007 to 2013. For children ages 10 to 14, the suicide rate tripled between 2007 and 2017.
And in 2019, the Pew Research Center reported that 70% of teens surveyed identified anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers.
The first state to address the issue with student mental-health days was Minnesota, in 2009, when it passed a bill saying excused absences could be given for mental-health conditions that require treatment.
In 2018, the Utah legislature changed the definition of an excused absence to include mental illness along with physical illness.
Last year, Oregon passed a law giving students five mental-health days over three months; it went into effect July 1. Students championed that law, too, motivated in part by students from Parkland, Florida, who led a national movement for gun control after the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“We were inspired by Parkland in the sense that it showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation,” Hailey Hardcastle, an 18-year-old in the Portland suburb of Sherwood told the Associated Press. “Just like those movements, this bill is something completely coming from the youth.”
In Florida, state Rep. Susan Valdés, a Democrat, has filed a bill in the current legislative session to allow public school students to take one mental-health day off each semester.
“It is time for us to take mental health as a whole more seriously,” Valdes told the Tallahassee Democrat.
California state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat, introduced a bill that would allow excused absences to include days “for the benefit of the mental or behavioral health of the pupil.”
“I had a brother who took his own life,” Portantino told KQED. “And one of the reasons I talk about it is so people understand that mental-health issues affect all of us.”
Legislation in New York, introduced by Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat, mirrors the California bill.