Schools are widely known for having sick days when a student has an upset stomach, headache, or another physical illness, but what if they do not mentally feel well? For instance, a student can feel depressed, anxious, or stressed and want to stay home from school or need to attend a therapy appointment during school hours. Mental or behavioral illness has not been recognized as an excuse to miss school—until now.
Recently in Oregon, four local teen activists proposed House Bill 2191 to excuse student absences for mental or behavioral health reasons as with regular sick days. The law was signed by the governor and went into effect this 2019-2020 school year.1 In addition to Oregon, Utah also implemented a law that allows both physical and mental illnesses to be a valid absence from school.2 So far, Utah and Oregon are the only two states to implement laws around mental health sick days. Of note, however, New York has recently introduced similar legislation which, if passed, will take effect in July 2020.3 Hopefully this is the start of a much needed country-wide change.
The primary goals around creating these laws are to decrease the stigma associated with mental illness and have students understand that their mental/behavioral health is extremely important. Another goal is to encourage honesty amongst the students. If a student is feeling mentally unwell, they are more likely to lie and make up an excuse to miss school instead of admitting their mental health disorder in fear of being rejected. These new laws hope to help with these goals and encourage other states to implement similar policies.
To understand the significance of improving mental health among teens, it is important to know some facts. Data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) shows that in 2017, the rate of suicide for ages 15 to 24 was 14.46 per 100,000 individuals and has continued to increase since 2000.4 In addition, 7.4 percent of high school youth reported making at least one suicide attempt in the past year.4 In adolescents, half of their mental health problems appear at age 14 and one in five have already had a serious mental health disorder in their life.5
There are different types of mental health disorders that occur in adolescents. The most common mental health problems in teens are as follows:6,7
- Anxiety disorders
- Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Eating disorders
- Conduct disorders
- Substance abuse disorders
As a teacher, parent, or friend, it is important to notice any changes in how someone is acting and offer to listen to their concerns or help them schedule an appointment with a counselor. Teen Mental Health Organization states, “Having a mental disorder should not be any different than experiencing a physical illness”.8 It is about time mental health gets the attention it deserves, and students can remain hopeful knowing their health needs are respected and acknowledged.
Kaitlin Brehaut, MPH, CHES
Kaitlin Brehaut serves as IHPL’s Health Policy Assistant, providing administrative, programmatic and research support to the Institute team. Ms. Brehaut completed her undergraduate education in Health Science with a concentration in Health Care Management at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB). She then received her Master of Public Health degree at CSUSB. She is also certified as a Health Education Specialist.
For more information, contact Kaitlin at: firstname.lastname@example.org