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Twelve states now allow students to take “mental health days” as excused absences, and experts say it’s a huge step forward.
When Lori Riddle was in high school, she testified before Oregon’s state legislature in support of a bill that allowed excused absences to cover mental health. It worked: Oregon is one of handful of states that allow students to take time off for their mental health.
“I was going through my own mental health struggles and I knew that testifying for mental health days and being vulnerable was opening myself and my struggles to criticism,” Riddle, now 21 and a college student who lives outside Portland, told TODAY Parents via email. “ I think it’s important to take care of yourself.”
Since Riddle’s testimony, more states have approved excused absences for mental heath for school-aged children and teens. According to VeryWell Mind, states that have mental health absences include:
Could mental health absences be abused?
Some adults worry that “mental health day” policies could be abused. The experts said they don’t think that’s too likely.
“What is helpful about the way in which mental health days are being rolled out in some states is that there’s a certain number of days that is allocated to take off,” Dr. Christine M. Crawford, the associate medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told TODAY Parents. “If schools see a pattern in which the student exceeds the allotted number of mental health days that really signals to the school that perhaps a student requires more mental health support.”
Some students might take advantage of these days, much like they might try to put a thermometer under a light to feign a fever. Dr. Deborah Gilboa said that doesn’t mean states or school districts should shy away from the policies.
“We’re afraid, understandably, of giving children easy opportunities for poor behavior,” she told TODAY Parents. “But put that against the potential good that mental health days could do for children as kids and once they become adults, and it’s worth the risk.”