Why students are taking mental health days off at school – and how to make the most of them

Minnesota was the first state in the nation for To allow students to be excused from school for mental health issues requiring ongoing treatment.

But since that law was passed in 2009, many other states have passed us by, ensuring that students can take the occasional day off even if they’re not seeking care for a mental health diagnosis.

My Chicago-area friend told me she called a mental health day for her teenage daughter – simply a time to reset and recharge – and that’s how I learned that Illinois allows up to five such days per year without requiring a medical certificate. Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia have all passed similar legislation in recent years, and in many cases the efforts have been led by students, according to the New York Times.

Minnesota could restore its lead on this issue and give students more power to look after their overall well-being. Young people need to know that it’s okay to admit they’re having a hard time and that there’s no better time to offer them that reassurance.

More than one in three high school students experienced ‘poor mental health’ during the pandemic, says rresults of an investigation released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month. About 44% of students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, nearly 20% seriously considered suicide and 9% attempted suicide in the year prior to the survey, which was conducted in the first semester 2021.

The signs were so severe that the US Surgeon General issued a urgent warning of a youth mental health crisis last December.

So, can students be excused for Mental Health Days in Minnesota without a doctor’s note or medical diagnosis? I asked this question to the state education department. Spokeswoman Ashleigh Norris explained that because Minnesota is a local control state, each school district determines what is considered an excused absence.

“There is nothing in Minnesota law that would prevent a district from determining that a mental health day would count as an excused absence,” Norris said.

On the other hand, I guess nothing prevents a district from determining that a mental health day would be do not count as a valid absence. It’s up to parents to navigate this gray area. You can decide to keep your child home even if there is no official designation for mental health days at their school.

Clinical pediatric psychologist Jasmin Searcy-Pate believes so much in the power of a mental health day for children that she recently wrote a picture book in which the main character, a girl named Olivia, takes a day off to soothe the knots in her stomach. After a day of rest and meditation, Olivia performs in her play and wins her gymnastics competition.

Searcy-Pate, who completed her specialty training at Children’s Minnesota, says children are like adults — they can experience loss, depression and anxiety. The idea is to teach them early on to take care of themselves.

“A lot of times caregivers can say, ‘Oh, this child, they have nothing to worry about. They have a bed to sleep in, they don’t have bills to pay,’” said Searcy-Pate, an assistant clinical professor. at the University of Illinois at Chicago. “But the reality is that they’re going through these stressors. And we as adults have to give them the tools, even saying, ‘Hey, it’s good to take a step back and recover. “

But how should you assess whether your child should take a mental health day – and how should it be spent?

While “I don’t want to go to school” may be a popular refrain in your household as well as mine, it doesn’t necessarily mean a day off is warranted. Searcy-Pate says caregivers need to explore what may be driving a child’s refusal to attend class. Ask the teacher if they are having any difficulties, such as transitions to new activities or bullying. If we parents keep them home because they failed to prepare for a test, for example, we are teaching them avoidance – and that will only increase their anxiety in the long run.

If you allow a child to take a day off, be sure to set boundaries and articulate Why behind, she warns. She often tells young people that the purpose of Mental Health Day is to focus on their social and emotional learning.

“We actually recover. We practice our skills. We engage in artwork. We keep a journal,” she said. “But we’re not on video games. We’re not on the phone or on TikTok or making videos.”

It’s also a good time to talk with your child and consider whether they might benefit from seeing a mental health professional, Searcy-Pate said.

In Minneapolis, children have not only experienced the disruption and loss associated with a pandemic, but also the repercussions of the murder of George Floyd, rising gun violence and a teachers’ strike which, no matter how worthy of its cause. , shut them out of classrooms for nearly three weeks and shattered fragile notions of stability. Color familieslow-income children and students with disabilities have borne the brunt of the upheaval.

In a year like this, it may seem absurd to allow our children to take yet another day off. But there are dire consequences when we don’t give young people the tools to talk about their emotional struggles. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Minnesotans between the ages of 10 and 24.

Among those advocating for Oregon’s Student Mental Health Day Act, one of the first in the nation, were parents Roxanne and Jason Wilson. Their daughter, Chloe, was bullied after coming out as bisexual in middle school. She committed suicide at the age of 14.

The Wilsons told the Associated Press that Chloe pretended to be sick so she could stay home. They thought the law might have saved her life because she could have said more about her sanity, rather than lying to excuse her absences.

Some adults will call this nationwide movement for mental health days the work of a blessed generation. But as parents, we need to teach our children to live with emotional honesty. A day off could be a time for them not only to recharge, but also to let us know when they need help.

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