“I can’t imagine pain worse than this. I had no idea and we didn’t see it coming at all, no clue, just totally blindsided. ,,, Because she lied to get her absences excused, we didn’t get to have those mental health conversations that could have saved her life.”
— Roxanne Wilson, mother of 14-year-old Chloe Wilson of Eugene, Ore. Chloe killed herself in 2018 after being bullied for being bisexual.
It’s easy to dismiss the concept of allowing school kids to take “mental health” days as simply a ploy for them to sleep in or get out of a test or gym class.
But for the parents of children who’ve experienced mental illness, such days could be the door that opens up a conversation that could save a life or get their child the help they need.
For the kids — stressed beyond our understanding by the pressures of school, bullying, gender-identity, social media and other issues — having an outlet to take a legitimate day off from school when it all becomes too much could be just what they need to hold on in a crisis and to take steps to identify and address their mental health issues.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 17.4% of children age 2-8 had been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. That number rises to about 20% for young adults.
We allow kids to be excused from school when their bodies are overtaxed by physical ailments like a cold. But we don’t allow them the same relief when their minds are overtaxed.
So when state lawmakers return to Albany next year, they should give consideration to a bill (A8543/S6687) that would permit schools to excuse students for mental or behavioral reasons, in addition to physical reasons. The state education commissioner would set the criteria.
Two states already have such a law.
Oregon allows students to take up to five mental health days in a three-month period, while a valid excuse for a school absence in Utah now includes an illness “which may be mental or physical.”
The idea behind the law isn’t to solve mental health issues by dismissing them as being curable by an occasional day off.
Recognizing that mental health is a legitimate reason for a student to need time off brings the issue more to the forefront and may allow parents and school staff more insight and awareness that a child is having mental health problems.
Oregon complemented its mental health day law by funding more counselors and training for school personnel and families to address mental health issues. New York should consider doing the same.
If legitimizing mental health absences can help children who are struggling, shouldn’t our state lawmakers make the option available to them?