When adults are feeling stressed out, overwhelmed or tired, many will take a vacation day or personal day off work for a little reset. Some might even take a sick day -- even when they’re not feeling physically ill. Many experts say taking a “mental health day" to tend to one’s psychological and emotional well-being is vital to overall health.
And now a Florida lawmaker feels that grade-schoolers should get the same benefit.
Before Democratic State Representative Susan Valdes of Tampa ran for the state legislature, she was a longtime member of the Hillsborough County School Board. Valdes is sponsoring a bill (HB 315) that would allow Florida students one mental health day per semester as an excused absence. A note from the student's parent would be required for the missed day.
Valdes says conversations with a former colleague on the school board -- a mental health professional --convinced her that the measure was needed in Florida. Recent studies have shown that the rate of major depressive episodes among 12- to 17-year-olds has increased 52 percent since 2005. Valdes hopes granting kids the days off from school would remove some of the stigma attached to mental health and encourage students to seek help when they need it.
"We want to ensure that children grow up in a safe environment with all of those resources necessary for them to become a productive adult," says Valdes.
The idea of granting mental health days to students appears to be gaining ground nationwide. This past June, Oregon responded to a campaign by a group of high school activists by signing a law allowing students to take mental health days just as they would sick days. A similar law was created in Utah last year.
Some critics of the measures worry that students will use the mental health day polices as an excuse to skip school. Others worry that they coddle students too much.
"This is not a national 'skip day' or just another day off," says Valdes. " It's not about making a child weaker. On the contrary -- it's making a child stronger by understanding that their mental health is important."
If you or someone you know needs help, there's a number of available free resources for support. You can always text 741741 to go to www.crisistextline.org to speak with a trained crisis counselor. Or you can call into the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.