STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.6, RH.6-8.8, WHST.6-8.1, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.6, RI.6-8.8, RI.6-8.10, W.6-8.1, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Individual Development and Identity • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions

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Should Students Be Allowed Mental Health Days?

Some states now let students be excused from school to cope with anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. Is this a good idea?

When Hailey Hardcastle was a kid, she and her mother made a deal. Hailey could take three days off from school each semester. They called these her “mental health days.”

Mental health refers to a person’s psychological and emotional well-being. Taking days off from school made it easier for Hailey to manage her mental health issues—anxiety and depression.

Then, when Hailey was in high school, it crossed her mind that other students could benefit from a similar arrangement. So she joined forces with other Oregon teens in a months-long effort to persuade their state’s lawmakers to pass a bill that would make mental health days a right for all Oregon students.

Their hard work paid off: In June 2019, that bill was signed into law by the governor. Now, along with physical illness or an emergency, mental health is an acceptable reason to miss school.

Today, laws like this exist in at least nine states and have been proposed in five others. Hailey, who’s now in college, believes such policies will help students who are struggling with their mental health. But some people worry: Are days off from school really the best solution?

Taking Time Off

Mental health has become a major concern in the United States. In a 2020 poll, 70 percent of teens said they struggled with mental health, including anxiety, excessive stress, and depression. These problems, which are just as real as physical illnesses, often start to appear in middle and high school. And the Covid-19 pandemic, which upended so many Americans’ lives, put additional stress on teens by forcing them to deal with remote learning and social isolation.

70%

Share of teens who reported struggling with mental health

SOURCE: 4-H/Harris Poll

Experts say it’s important to pay attention to mental health from a young age. “We need to give students the chance to say they need a break,” says Jennifer Rothman of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “That way, they’ll learn to put their mental health first as adults.”

Ebbie Berry, 16, of Hopewell, Pennsylvania, says such a day off can be a great stress reliever, “whether you spend it taking a walk, watching a favorite movie, talking to your parent or therapist, or just getting some extra sleep.” Plus, she says, having mental health days as school policy can help “both students and administrators see mental health [as being] as critical as physical health”—and can lessen the stigma of asking for help.

How to Protect Your Mental Health

Practice Self-Care
Make time every day to do something that makes you happy, whether it’s painting or going for a run.

Talk It Out
Share how you’re feeling with a parent or other trusted adult, such as a teacher or coach.

Ask for Help
For mental health support and to connect with a counselor 24/7, text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

More In-School Breaks Needed

Still, some people say days off from school aren’t the answer.

They say schools should provide regular support for all students— including counseling for those actively struggling with mental health issues—instead of leaving them to cope solo during a day off.

“By letting students stay home, schools would essentially be telling them to handle their struggles on their own,” says William Davis, 17, of Shreveport, Louisiana. “This could be dangerous, especially if the student spends the day alone when they are already feeling vulnerable. Being isolated could make the problem worse.”

81%

Percentage of teens who wish mental health care was easier for all teens to access

SOURCE: 4-H/Harris Poll

Sandra Zajac-Naylor, a middle school teacher in Connecticut, agrees that students need more regular support at school rather than days off. “I think we need more mental health breaks,” she says. She’d like to see yoga and other activities offered during school hours to help students relax.

Think It Over

Consider the pros and cons of mental health days. Then ask yourself: Should more states allow them? Or are there other, more effective ways to help teens take care of their mental health? 

Write About It! Do you support or oppose mental health days? What are the best ways for teens to deal with mental health issues? Write an argument that supports your ideas with evidence from the article and your own experiences.

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