By Emily Newburn
There have always been high expectations for high school students to maintain diligence with their assignments and school performance and pressure to manage the social aspect of going to school daily. In recent years, the problem is worsening due to increasing mental health problems. Schools should show support to their students and validate their struggles by allowing them mental health days to spend time dealing with stress and social pressures.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, suicide is the second leading cause of death for those ages 15-24. Of course, having mental health days would not solve this problem entirely, but it will give students time to take a step back and deal with the pressure they are facing.
“I myself and a majority of my friends have and continue to struggle with mental health issues like anxiety and depression, and it’s not just us,” said Zoë Panek, a freshman at Batavia High School. “These things are more prevalent than ever, and more kids than you think grapple with this stuff.”
Mental health has to take priority over submitting school work on time and having perfect grades. Schools must recognize that in some cases, it’s better to take some time off than to push through when you are struggling to cope.
“To speak to my own experiences, it is infinitely difficult to work at school when you don’t have the motivation to get out of bed or your anxiety is out of control about everything and nothing,” Panek said. “Going to school when you’re in a bad headspace makes it impossible to focus, and to be honest, it makes things worse. For me, this has led to panic attacks in school bathrooms and consoling friends who haven’t been able to sleep in days.”
Some public schools in states like Oregon permit students to take days off for mental health reasons. In July of 2019, Oregon passed a law allowing students to take “mental health days” off from school, just as they would for sick days. Students are given up to five excused absences each semester. The state put this law into place to help change the stigma around mental health and treat mental health and physical health equally. Teenagers experience social pressures each day, and many of them do not open up about the feelings that they are having. Allowing mental health days will help people develop a deeper understanding of the importance of taking care of their mental health and its criticalness.
“It [giving mental health days] also normalizes the whole concept of mental illness and its seriousness,” Panek said. “Even just when our parents were kids, these things weren’t as well understood or taken as seriously, and this could be an integral first step out of many to a larger cultural shift in the attitude around mental illness.”
There are varying levels of severity of anxiety and depression among teenagers, but regardless, every individual needs time to cope with their emotions and stress.
“One of the most challenging parts of high school for me has been keeping a positive mindset and trying not to become overwhelmed with school work and other aspects of my life,” said BHS junior Kelly Wenzel. “When I’m not doing homework, it’s difficult to keep my mind away from schoolwork and actually detach and take a break. I find myself worrying about what assignments are due, what I can be working on to get ahead, and how to catch up if I’m behind.”
Some people may argue that students could take advantage of mental health days and use them irresponsibly, but that is no reason to take away the chance for people who need time off to get in a better headspace. Students receiving a few days off each semester dedicated to dealing with mental health issues would be highly constructive.
“If the school gave us mental health days, I think it would benefit me a lot. I could spend time getting more sleep and take it easy for the day,” Wenzel said. “It would also be an opportunity to catch up on school work. Some of the teachers give you work time in class, but it can be distracting to have other students there with you.”
The same way an athlete that had just suffered a leg injury would need time to regain health before getting back to their sport, students need time to get their mental health in a better position and get back on their feet before attempting to learn in a school environment.
“The opportunity to take days off in order to be in a better place mentally can be so beneficial for many students and give kids an opportunity to recuperate from things that are just as, if not more, serious than bodily illness,” Panek said.
Society as a whole is a long way from where it needs to be in changing the stigma around mental health. Giving students mental health days is necessary for the Batavia school district to help students feel supported and validated.