PLAINVIEW, NY — New York state lawmakers are considering joining a dozen other states in allowing students to take days off school for mental health.
The proposal is expected to be presented this month in Albany. The intention is to make emotional well-being a health priority.
The stress of growing up, magnified by the isolation of the pandemic, has created a generation of anxiety and depression, with suicide on the rise.
In South Huntington, Walt Whitman High School now counsels students at a nearby urgent care center, removing the stigma of seeking help.
“Students who are struggling in some way and may only need a day to get somewhere,” Elder Hasham Coudrey said.
New York is considering going even further. The bill would add mental health vacation days to school, like sick days.
“If parents see mental health as a sick day, maybe they would allow it and it would help kids who are struggling,” said Eliana Kazin, a senior at Walt Whitman High.
Experts who work with adolescents say it would open up communication with parents and could spur life-saving intervention.
“If a child is communicating, ‘I want to take one of those mental health days,’ now you have an opportunity to not just discuss it; you help the conversation become very natural about mental health,” said Kathy Rivera, executive director of the Center family-oriented North Shore.
However, not all educators think that another day off school is more effective.
“As teachers and administrators, we love and support our students 100% and want to help determine the cause of these mental health issues. So it can be everyone’s mission to help students fix that problem. Whether tests or classwork is the cause of students’ distress, teachers can find a solution. Conflicts at home or interactions on social media can trigger depression and anxiety. School social workers and guidance counselors can work with families and students to help resolve issues and make a positive impact. If a student stays home for a mental health day, even though it may seem worthwhile, an extra day off does not get to the root of the problem, in fact, it can even lead to chronic absenteeism, while the problem remains hidden and unresolved. resolving stressful situations is the right and helpful solution,” said Dr. Shari Camhi, superintendent of the Baldwin Union Free School District.
When asked if he thinks students would benefit from it, Coudrey said no, adding “especially having kind of a three to five day time limit.”
The state Department of Education would determine the limit on mental health days. All work must be recovered. Plainview/Old Bethpage JFK High School has licensed them, and the principal reports no abuse of the system.
“Not at all. We were able to identify some students who were using them more than we wanted to see, which gave us an opportunity for the assistant principal and social worker to contact family to say what we can do to help your child?” Principal James Murray said.
Proponents say it should be for teachers, too.
“Burnout is real. I think we think of burnout as a separate category and it’s not. Burnout is the cumulative effect of how life’s stressors affect our overall mental health,” said Eric Kussin of #SameHere Global Mental Health Movement.
The proposal was introduced and failed in Albany for four years, but with data showing the pandemic has dramatically impacted mental health, advocates say there is new urgency.