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Support Grows for Mental Health Days From School

photo of sad young boy in school

Oct. 3, 2022 -- With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing attention to children’s mental health problems, more experts are advocating mental health days from school – excused absences because kids are feeling anxious or depressed.

“I think mental health has to be appreciated as much as physical health,” Christine M. Nicholson, a clinical child psychologist in Kirkland, Wash., told The Washington Post.  “Kids are having a tough time, and they need a break.”

 Children who are feeling anxious or depressed could go for a hike, see a movie, or even stay home and bake a cake or watch a movie, she said. 

 “A chronically stressed brain is not in learning mode, it is in survival mode,” Matt Shenker, a former elementary school counselor who now serves as resident in counseling at Thriveworks, told Very Well Mind, a website for mental health professionals.

“So there is an argument to be made that giving students mental health days makes teaching and learning more effective as students will grasp concepts sooner and retain them more deeply if they experience less chronic stress.”

 Very Well Mind says 12 states have laws allowing mental health days: Washington, California, Illinois, Maine, Virginia, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Kentucky. States considering mental health days include Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania. 

 In states that adopted the laws, parents must sign a note excusing their child from school, The Post said. Other policies vary, such as how many mental health days a child can claim. 

 Anthony Portantino, a California state senator who introduced the bill in that state in 2021, says COVID put a light on the problem. 

“The pandemic exacerbated the need, but if it can hasten the fix, then that is something positive,” he said.

 In December 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory declaring a mental health crisis for American children. He urged Americans to “recognize that mental health is an essential part of overall health.”

 “School policies that recognize mental health as an acceptable reason for absence can help students take the time they need to care for themselves and restore their health,” Barb Solish, director of Youth and Young Adult Initiatives for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told The Post.

“Practically speaking, if you have a fever, you’re not paying attention in class, right? You’re not learning the lesson. If you’re feeling overwhelming anxiety, you’re not learning either.”

Show Sources

The Washington Post: “More states are allowing children to take mental health days”


Very Well Mind: “States Are Now Accepting “Mental Health Day” as a Valid Reason for Missing School”


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “U.S. Surgeon General Issues Advisory on Youth Mental Health Crisis Further Exposed by COVID-19 Pandemic”

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