“He stopped coming to school one day. [He] “I can’t handle it. And I had to tell my mom I was vomiting and couldn’t go, but I can’t stand it today.. ‘And it was heartbreaking.'”
No one says Mental Health Day is new to students. However, this will be the first school year to officially take place in Washington.
Enumclaw High School Principal Rodrick Merrell said: “Now parents can honestly say, ‘My student is having a hard time today.'”
The change will allow schools to officially count mental health-related absences, he said. Washington is one of 12 states specifically allowing students to take mental health leave, according to website Very Well Mind. Virginia first enacted its law in 2019. At least he has four other states considering it.
Schools are now able to accept mental health symptoms in the definition of absenteeism in the same way as physical health symptoms. It officially allows students to take time off to care for their mental health, including counseling and behavioral health appointments.
The law does not allow students to make excuses, and each school district presents its own requirements.
Merrell said this was a necessary change. “But I don’t think there is an equivalent of a student with debilitating depression.”
The new rules will allow schools to collect information on overall mental health so they know how they might otherwise respond. “Many kids are having mental health days, and with that data, you can ask, ‘Is there anything else I can do to help my students?'” he says Merrell.
Offering a mental health day also serves another purpose: normalizing mental health issues. “We’re trying to blame mental health challenges. That’s not what we’re talking about,” Merrell said.
The shift comes as Washington grapples with a mental health crisis among young people. According to the Healthy Youth Survey, a statewide survey of students of all grades, by 2021, 45% of Washington 12th graders will be feeling better, up 4 percentage points from 2018. indicated that they reported feeling depressed (sad and hopeless). A decade ago in her 2012, 30% of 12th graders reported feeling depressed.
Axios reports that children in Washington state report higher rates of anxiety and depression than their national peers. The Annie E. Casey Foundation found that about 15% of children in Washington were diagnosed with anxiety or depression in 2020. Nationally, that number was her 11.8%.
Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee declared declining youth mental health a statewide emergency, nearly 12 months after suspending in-person classes as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19. His state of emergency declaration cites an increase in mental health crisis calls, hospitalizations and suspected suicide attempts.
The governor’s proclamation called for an end to all distance learning as part of the state’s response to the mental health crisis and authorized the Department of Health Care and the Department of Health to work on recommendations to support the mental health of young people. .