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Teens Are Advocating for Mental Health Days Off School

Updated: Feb 3, 2023

Original article written by Christina Caron for New York Times.

The decline in the mental health of children and adolescents has led to new laws allowing kids to attend to their own self-care.

Faced with high stress levels among adolescents and a mental health crisis that includes worsening suicide rates, some states are now allowing students to declare a mental health day.

Late last year the advocacy group Mental Health America surveyed teenagers about the top three things that would be most helpful for their mental health. More than half of the respondents cited the ability to take a mental health break or absence from either school or work. And in a Harris Poll of more than 1,500 teenagers conducted in May of last year, 78 percent of those surveyed said schools should support mental health days to allow students to prioritize their health.

Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, medical director of the Child Mind Institute and a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in New York City, views mental health days as a joyous occasion: an opportunity to have fun.

Ideally, you can use mental health days as a way to celebrate your child’s efforts in school, he said.

But don’t use mental health days to help your child avoid situations at school that are making them uncomfortable, he cautioned.

The phrase “mental health day” might make some kids and parents uncomfortable. With that in mind, the school board in Montgomery County, Md., decided that it will excuse absences taken for “student illness and well-being,” starting in the new school year.

“We didn’t want to call it a mental health day, because we know there is still stigma around that,” Karla Silvestre, the school board vice president, told Education Week in June.

One advantage of declaring a “mental health day” and recognizing its importance at the state level is that — ideally — using this kind of language can help families start to have more open conversations about subjects related to mental health, and potentially reduce some of the stigma associated with self-care, Ms. Rothman said.


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