Proponents of the bill say that designating excused “mental health days” will help destigmatize mental illness and help start critical conversations.
New York state legislators are considering a bill that would allow students to take off from school to attend to their mental health.
Some call it coddling and a crutch. But proponents of the bill say that designating excused “mental health days” will help destigmatize mental illness and encourage young people to feel comfortable talking about what they are going through.
“No longer will a student have to lie about why they’re staying home from school, and this conversation, hopefully, will be forced out in the open—not just with their teachers, but with their parents and their family members, too,” said state Senator Brad Hoylman, who is sponsoring the bill.
Indeed there is a need to address young people’s mental health. About 70% of American teenagers view anxiety and depression as a major problem, according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center. And suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-34, according to the CDC.
Mandatory Mental Health Education
Last September, New York became the first state to mandate mental health education in elementary through high school curricula.
Allowing days off from school to deal with mental or behavioral health would cement the state’s commitment to supporting young people’s mental well-being.
“I think that’s a really good idea, because teenagers go through a lot of issues, struggles internally that they might not show to everyone… or even talk about,” student Gabbi Hanna told CBS. “But inside they might be dealing with something they don’t know how to deal with. And having that day off… might help them decompress a little bit before going back into the school environment.”
Other States Are Also Prioritizing Mental Health Days
New York would not be the first state to enact such a policy. In 2018, Utah amended the definition of a student’s valid absence to include illness “which may be mental or physical.”
And in July, Oregon began allowing students five mental health days in a three-month period. Hailey Hardcastle, who helped pass the bill, said the bill was inspired by the national youth-led movement following the Parkland, Florida mass shooting in 2018.
“We have a lot of kids that are dealing with [symptoms of mental illness] in silence because they’re embarrassed or they think people are going to judge them and not believe them,” said Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult initiatives for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Normalizing “mental health days” can help destigmatize mental illness and facilitate conversation about mental health, Rothman said.