US Students Win Legal Right to Take ‘Mental Health Days’ From School

The Oregon teenagers that pushed the proposal hope the initiative will help tackle the mental health crisis gripping the state.

25.07.2019 | by Christy Romer
Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash
Photo by Cristofer Jeschke on Unsplash

After years of a mental health crisis gripping the youth in Oregon, a US state in the Pacific Northwest, four teenagers decided they had enough. Hailey Hardcastle, Derek Evans, Lori Riddle and Sam Adamson began lobbying for legislative changes to recognise that not only physical illness can stop students from going to school.

Their insistence—inspired by the success of young students that found a national voice on gun control after the Parkland shootings—means that school-goers in Oregon will be able to take up to five days off every three months for issues with “mental or behavioural health.”

This is important because suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 34 in the state, according to NBC News. Just under 20% of eight-graders reportedly said they had seriously considered taking their lives within the past 12 months, and Oregon has a suicide rate 40% higher than the national average.

The bill was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown last month. Speaking to the media, Hardcastle said the group was empowered by Parkland “in the sense that it showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation.”

“Just like those movements, this bill is something completely coming from the youth,” she added, expressing hope that the legislation would encourage young people to admit when they were having difficulty.

Experts hope this will be a first step towards wider change across the state and then hopefully the country. There is, however, some concern that the school absenteeism rate will be exacerbated in a state that has one of the worst truancy problems in the country.

Hardcastle rejected this, telling NBC News that kids would find ways to take time off whatever the policy—but, under the new law, they would be less likely to lie or hide issues about mental health to teachers and parents, which would help give them the help they need.

The BBC notes that this law is a step beyond current policy in the UK: There’s no law in Great Britain that forces schools or employers to recognise mental health issues as an excuse for having a day off.

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