We all joke that we need a mental health day. Well, for students in Utah and Oregon, they are now permitted to take one. Both western states have recently passed legislation that builds mental health days into students’ school year.
Both states have seen their suicide rates rising. Since the turn of the 21st-century suicide in Utah has been skyrocketing among teens. While Oregon has seen statewide suicide rates go up 28.2 percent from1999 to 2016, Utah’s suicide rate rose a staggering 46.5 percent.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people ages 10-34 according to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Marjorie Stoneman Douglass students from Parkland, Fla. have been instrumental in advocating for mental health awareness across the country.
Utah merely expanded the definition of a student’s valid excuse for an illness “which may be mental or physical”. In Oregon, students were granted 5 mental health days in a 3-month period.
Students identified anxiety and depression along with politics and climate change among the reasons that mental health days might be needed.
“Dealing with anxiety throughout high school has always left me tired, exhausted up against some weeks, and the difference one day makes is honestly life-changing,” Derek Evans, a former student, told Fox 12 Oregon.
Families of students who took their own lives have championed this initiative. Chloe Wilson revealed she was bisexual. It didn’t take long for her classmates to harass her. She would fake illness just to stay home from school. Last year she committed suicide.
Chloe’s mom, Roxanne Wilson wished this law could have been in place when Chloe was struggling.
“Because she lied to get her absences excused, we didn’t get to have those mental health conversations that could have saved her life,” Mrs. Wilson told the Associated Press.
Advocates for mental health have also endorsed this measure. Jennifer Rothman, senior manager for youth and young adult initiatives for National Alliance on Mental Illness feels these new laws are a “huge win” for those “quietly suffering” from symptoms of mental illness.
Rothman added, “We have a lot of kids that are dealing with this in silence because they’re embarrassed or they think people are going to judge them and not believe them.”
Experts hope Utah and Oregon are only the beginning of this movement toward recognizing and treating mental health in teens.