Oregon schools will allow students to take mental health days in the same way that they can stay home if they are sick. The students that lobbied for the measure hope that it will help change the stigma around mental health, according to a report by the Associated Press and published by TIME.
Mental health experts say it's one of the first state laws that treats mental and physical health equally. Utah recently passed a similar law.
Students who championed the bill were inspired by the political youth movement in the wake of last’s year’s Florida school shooting. The measure was drafted in response to data showing that schools are seeing an increase in mental health needs among students.
Reports indicate that screen time and social media can contribute to teen depression. To address this, states are implementing measures to help students better understand mental health and how to seek help. This month, Florida will join Virginia and New York in requiring students in grades 6-12 to take five hours of mental health education per year.
Approximately 400 educators in Virginia’s Fauquier County Public Schools and about 1,000 of its community members have completed a mental health first aid course that will prepare them to respond to the first signs of mental health distress in students. Likewise, Jefferson High School in Montana is piloting a similar program that features training students in a peer-to-peer mental health first-aid program.
Stan Kutcher, a professor of psychiatry at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, says students need resilience to weather life’s ups and downs. Many students, he says, claim to have a mental health disorder when they are really just feeling upset. He wants students to have a sense of mental health literacy so they can understand that they could be experiencing everyday emotions.
Mental health days can also provide an opportunity for students to process these emotions, distance themselves from the issue at hand and de-escalate before returning to the classroom.
Providing these supports is especially important given the growing suicide rate, which has increased for boys ages 15-19 by 30% since 2007. The increase for girls in that same age range has doubled. Principals are offering screenings for depression and attempting to triage mental health concerns. They are also offering more mental health education for parents and looking for stronger partnerships with mental health agencies.