New Illinois Law Allows Kids to Take Mental Health Absences in School

The new law enables students to take five mental health days as excused absences throughout the school year.

A new Illinois law allows students who are at risk of mental illnesses to take control of their mental health. With the permission of their physician or principal, students may be granted days off for mental health reasons. Additionally, this law allows students up to five days, to be used throughout the year, that will count toward their overall excused absences. 

The creator of Bill 0576, Senator Van Pelt Martwick, plans to help those who have been affected by difficulties during the past year. This legislation will help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and support schoolchildren who need greater assistance in regards to their own health. 

“This pandemic has taken a toll on all of us, and I think it’s proven to many people how important it is to take mental health seriously,” Martwick says. 

Why mental health days are important for kids 

Giving kids mental health days will allow greater progress towards eliminating the onset of stress that is brought to school. The days taken off will allow young people to receive the help they need and eliminate any steps towards severe conditions. 

Moreover, the needed days stretch benefits to a significant amount of the population. 

“1 in 5 children have a diagnosable health problem,” says mental health expert Margaret Cochran, and “everyone deals with stress and distress at some point in their lives.” 

And the pandemic has been extra hard on kids. In fact, The Deseret News reports that American teens have been dealing with unprecedented amounts of anxiety and depression since the beginning of the pandemic. Specifically, one quarter of kids are showing up to school with depression and one fifth with anxiety. and a 2020 survey by Mental Health America reports that nearly half of teens say they would like to learn how to better care for their mental health.

The mental health days allowed under this law will provide a time for teens to learn how to deal with their health, outside of school and give them the space needed to care for their personal mental health needs.

Students report that having more time to do some of their favorite activities outside of school, and being able to have space for these activities support their mental well-being. In addition, some students report spending more time with their parents and social support networks also provide positive mental health outcomes. 

How to spend mental health days 

Kids should take the lead in determining how these days are best used, but Cochran, suggests that a good starting point may be to spend the time with their parents. 

“Very seldom do parents have special time with their kids, so take a half an hour to do what the kids want to do. Kids adore that,” she says. . 

For older children, it might be going out to lunch and having meaningful conversations. The time spent outside of school can help decrease the mental health stigma by opening important conversations between both parents and their children. 

“We have to listen to what our children need, not what we want them to need,” Cochran adds.

You can find more information on this new law here

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