REDMOND, OR -- Students in Oregon will be allowed to take "mental health days," starting this fall. Oregon City High School freshman Taylor Hayes was one of several students who pushed the bill through the Legislature, saying, "An excused absence allows a student time to reflect, to collect themselves and hopefully gives a chance for a parent to intervene with their child and get them more help." She told them when students use "sick" days for mental health problems, parents aren't aware there's another issue that needs to be addressed.
The law allows students to take up to five Mental Health Days every three months. Supporters hope the new law will allow students more opportunities to get help with mental health problems, and potentially lower the state's teen suicide rate.
Redmond Schools Superintendent Mike McIntosh agrees kids should feel safe to ask for help when they’re struggling through a mental health crisis. He tells KBND News, "I can’t imagine some of the stressors that our kids face today that I didn’t have to face 20 years ago or 30 years ago. There is a difference in the level of stress, but I also think it’s an indicator of our society at large: One of the most significant issues that we face are kids in trauma, kids in mental health conditions that are unhealthy. As a school system, we’re not equipped necessarily to manage those issues." But, he says districts partner with agencies and professionals who are able to manage those issues, and avoiding school could mean less access to those resources. "There’s probably some truth to the fact that kids need a break from some of the stressors. I would encourage that not to be missing school as the break," says McIntosh, "School should not be the stressor, but there’s a lot of things that could make it that way for individual kids."
McIntosh is also concerned allowing kids to take so many Mental Health Days each school year will negatively impact their learning. Although the absences will be considered excused, he says, kids are still missing class, and that could be taken for granted, "Part of that becomes a habit. And, I would not ever call it ‘an excuse,’ but there’s a slippery slope there where you let school be the fall guy for all the other things you have in your life. And maybe something else needs to be given up in an effort to stay healthy." According to McIntosh, school districts across Oregon struggle with attendance, which is an important indicator for future success.