Washington state students will be able to take mental health days off from classes at the start of the new school year.
A new state law and rules approved by the state superintendent will allow excused absences for kids with symptoms related to mental illness, challenges with their mental health condition, and for mental health appointments.
“Mental has as much significance as physical health and is similarly important to one’s overall well-being,” Bridget Underdahl of the superintendent’s office told The Seattle Times.
Traditional physical sick days will still be allowed as well.
The changes come as studies report more young people are experiencing mental health issues, including depression and thoughts of suicide.
The trends began even before the pandemic, which made anxiety, depression, and stress even higher, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The COVID-19 pandemic lowered children’s trauma and coping skills, and getting back to “normal” has brought its own stresses.
The CDC says more than a third of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2019 – up from just over 25% with the same feelings 10 years ago. The Pew Research Center found that 70 percent of teenagers cited anxiety and depression as significant problems among other teens.
“A lot of the families I serve feel shamed and blamed by the truancy system when their children are struggling to maintain well-being, and they’re not able to show up for school because of that,” said Jerri Clark, who founded Mothers of the Mentally Ill. “There is so much stigma in missing school because of a problem with mental well-being.”
Washington state is not alone in accepting mental health days. States such as Utah, Maine, and Illinois have added mental health excused absences. Other states have introduced measures, including Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Washington’s students have no limit on the mental health days they can take.