Mental Health Days Off for Students- A good idea, or too sensitive?

There has been a lot of news around a bill recently passed in the state of Oregon that would allow students to take days off from school for “mental health” problems.  The bill was prompted by a staggering increase in the suicide rate of young people and hoped to break the stigma that still surrounds talking out loud about mental health issues.   I have been arguing for years that kids health should include mental health to the same levels as it does physical health.  All kids go for an annual physical, and by extension, all kids should go for an annual mental health exam.  We are long way away from this given our political landscape, therefore, educating our youth about mental health and talking about it is a good place to start.

I have sat back a bit to assess people’s responses to this new bill and even performed a poll on my Instagram story last week to gather people’s reactions.  On my poll, 91% agreed with the move and I was one of those people who voted yes.   It might be obvious at first to answer yes.  Why would this be a bad thing?  If someone is having some sort of mental health issues, crisis, or so stressed out to the point of reaching a break down, a day at home would and can be beneficial.  Where the doubters start chiming in is on how one defines “mental health”.  For example, what If a student has a test on Friday and has to study all week.  This studying and ramping up to the pending exam causes the student to become increasingly stressed out and agitated.  Thursday night comes, and that student decides they just can’t do it, and they need a mental health day.   Should we allow our kids to take off from school because of the normal stresses school and what studying can cause?  To this, I offer this answer.  No, we obviously should not, and it is in this ignorance that people are missing the true point.  

In the same example I gave, to follow through with this mental health day off, the student would presumably approach their parents and talk to them about how they are feeling.  The parent at that point should do what parents do, and that is know their child, talk to them, and let them know they are prepared for the test, will do great, and can rest on Saturday.   The point of this bill and the reason why I think it is important is that it allows the student to talk about how they are feeling emotionally.   It lets them feel like, just as they would if their throat or stomach hurt, they can express what they are going through, and let their parents or superiors know they are going through something.

Interestingly enough, a lot of the pushback I see comes from the older generation, people in their mid 40s to mid 60s who respond to this by saying things like “What is this world coming to, our kids are getting too soft”, or “we never got take days off because we were stressed” or “life is hard, suck it up” or finally, “we and our parents never got to take time off for these reasons and we turned out just fine.”

But did they though?  One of the most rapidly rising rates of suicide falls in the age bracket of 45-65 not to mention sky rocketing levels of opioid and drug addiction.  Why you might ask?   My hypothesis is that these individuals were never told or encouraged to talk about their emotions.  I can promise you this, my father growing up in the Bronx with 6 siblings and little money was never encouraged by my grandparents to come to them and talk about how they felt.  They were told to suck it up, get over it, and go to work.   Sure, they turned out “alright” but they are in no way emotionally sound, and many of them are high strung, anxious as hell, and super stressed.  In addition to the rising rates of suicide, the second leading cause of death is heart disease which all physicians agree stress is not good for heart health. So, maybe they “turned out alright” but it depends how one defines alright.  Alive and successful, then sure.  Emotionally sound, relaxed, patient, and non-stressed…definitely not. 

So, before we get all high and mighty criticizing days off for student’s mental health, please take a second and recognize the true reason for this bill, and that is promoting kids ability to talk about how they are feeling and recognizing that sometimes a break might be necessary.