A new law will permit students in the American state of Oregon to take “mental health days” just as they would sick days. The law is one of the first of its kind in the United States to clearly instruct schools to treat mental health and physical health equally.
The law comes at a time when educators are increasingly considering the emotional health of students. Utah passed a similar law last year.
Oregon’s governor Kate Brown signed the bill in June. It represents one of the few wins for youth activists from around the state. The students also asked for legislation to strengthen gun control and lower the voting age. Both of those efforts failed.
Hailey Hardcastle of Sherwood, Oregon helped champion the mental health bill. The 18-year-old and other student leaders were partly influenced by the national youth-led movement that followed the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
She told the Associated Press that they wanted the measure in order to deal with a mental health crisis in schools and to “encourage kids to admit when they’re struggling.”
Debbie Plotnik is with the advocacy group Mental Health America. She said having the law in schools was an important step in challenging the way society approaches mental health issues.
Plotnik added, “We need to say it’s just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness.”
Oregon health officials say suicide is the second leading cause of death in the state among those aged 10 to 34. Nearly 17% of eighth-graders reported seriously thinking about taking their lives within the past 12 months.
Oregon has a suicide rate 40% higher than the national average. The national suicide rate has been on the rise and recently hit a 50-year high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the rate has increased more than 30% since 1999.
Previously, schools only excused absences related to physical illnesses. At many schools, absences must be excused to make up missed tests or avoid detention.
Under state law, students can have up to five absences excused in a three-month period. Any more requires a written excuse to the school principal.
Hardcastle said she has received criticism from some parents who say the legislation was not necessary. They say students can already take mental health days by lying or pretending to be sick. Other critics have said the law will encourage students to find more excuses to miss school.
But Hardcastle argues that students are going to take the same amount of days off from school with or without the new law. She added that students might be less likely to lie about an absence if schools formally recognize mental health in their attendance policies.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
advocacy – n. the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal; the act or process of advocating something
challenging – adj. difficult in a way that is usually interesting or enjoyable
detention – n. a punishment in which a student is required to stay at school after the rest of the students have left