More schools are offering mental health days to students. Here’s what you need to know

State legislators in New York are cConsider a bill To allow K-12 students to take mental health days. If passed, New York would join dozens of other states giving students excused absences from classes to take care of their mental health.

It is a popular idea with both students and parents.

But as new states consider adopting the policy, and students take advantage of the benefit in states where it is available, how good are these student welfare days as mental health support?

To answer this question, we need a little background first.

The idea of ​​mental health days for students started to gain traction with the pandemic and the anxiety, stress and turmoil that came with it.

Twelve states currently allow mental health days, according to another According to the health and wellness website, Verwell Mind. A few states passed laws before the pandemic saying mental health was a legitimate reason for kids to stay home from school without consequences. But the pandemic appears to have sparked increased interest in the idea.

Since 2020, 10 states have passed laws allowing children to take a day off from school not because they are physically ill, but simply to mentally rest and recharge. Some laws simply state that mental or behavioral problems are now an acceptable excuse for truancy. Two other states set a limit on the number of designated mental health days students can take, such as Connecticut, which allows students to take two consecutive mental health days per year, and Illinois, which allows up to five mental health days. Public. These bills have been sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans.

It’s easy to see why some states have adopted this policy: It’s a relatively low-resource way to support children’s mental health. Allowing students to take mental health days also sends the message that taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health and reduces stigma around seeking help.

Student taking a mental health day. so what?

As important as they are for these reasons, experts also warn that mental health days come with some potential pitfalls.

The National Association of School Psychologists does not have an official position on mental health days. He is supportive of the idea that mental health should be treated similarly to physical health, but warns that mental health days should not become a substitute for other mental health support services provided by trained professionals.

It’s not enough for policymakers and education leaders to give students a day off for a mental vacation, said Kelly Vaillancourt-Strobach, the organization’s director of policy and advocacy at the National Association of School Psychologists. She has some questions for policymakers and school and district leaders to consider:

“Is there any process to ensure that the student is supervised by an adult while at home?” Strobach said in an email interview. “I realize you can’t do this now when a child calls in sick, but a student who stays home because they are feeling depressed or may be having suicidal thoughts should not be left alone.”

Does the parent have to give consent for the day off? And will there be a system for reporting when a student takes a mental health day? This is important, Strobach said, because it prompts the school psychologist, counselor or social worker to follow up with the student upon return to see if any additional support is needed.

The Hilliard School District has just such a system. Mental health days have their own absence code in the district’s attendance system, and school counselors automatically contact students or families after a student has taken two consecutive mental health days.

In general, there is also not a lot of research on how introducing mental health days affects students’ mental health and academic outcomes likely because the idea is so new. Experts suggest it should be paired with other strategies, including hiring more mental health support staff; establishing partnerships with community mental health service providers; setting up a mental health hotline; and training teachers and students to recognize signs of mental disorder.

Some schools even have them Create Wellness Manager positions in their leadership teams.

Students are the driving force in adopting the policy

What schools do know is that the past few years have been tough on children’s mental health, accelerating a downward trend that existed before the pandemic.

In the fall of 2021, several children’s health care organizations — the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association — declared a “mental health emergency” for children and adolescents, and the latest research shows that stress from pandemic lockdowns is causing Adolescent brains to premature aging.

This is probably why mental health days are such a popular idea with so many students. In some cases, they were the driving force behind policy adoption.

Oregon high school students The charge led to pressure on lawmakers to pass a bill allowing mental health days to serve as an excused absence.

Surveys have found that the idea is also popular with parents. 2021 Survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illnessconducted by international polling firm Ipsos, found that 70 percent of parents support schools offering mental health days to students.

June 2022 Survey by Verwell Mind and Parents Magazine It found that 75 per cent of parents feel schools should offer mental health days for students. And 56 percent of parents said they let their children take a mental health day, regardless of whether their child’s school has an official mental health day policy.

It’s hard to say if that momentum behind Mental Health Days will continue at this point.

Bills similar to those currently being considered in New York were introduced in the state legislature in 2017 and 2019, but did not pass. Bills introduced in Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania in previous years have also stalled, according to a Fairwell Mind analysis.

There are also some school districts offering mental health days, such as Hilliard City Schools in Ohio, and Harford County Public Schools in Maryland, whose board of directors agreed to allow students to take mental health breaks earlier this month.

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