Mental health in a pandemic needs to be a priority

In such a difficult time, MCPS should be priotizing mental health.  It's critical.

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In such a difficult time, MCPS should be priotizing mental health. It’s critical.

Immersed in school work late at night, you take a quick glance at the clock and the hours have progressed to single digits. Your brain is fried and it’s way past your bedtime, but you want to finish all your assignments in time for class tomorrow. A majority of students often find themselves in this situation, and they don’t realize that sleep deprivation can be a gateway into mental illness. As we grow older, the stress and pressure to succeed in school and in extracurricular activities can be detrimental to our well-being. Students should be allowed to take breaks from school and our work-obsessed society.

Countless teens greatly desire mental health days. According to suicide.org, about 20 percent of all teenagers experience depression before they reach adulthood. Numerous schools don’t permit mental health days as a valid excuse for absence for various reasons and this policy can be harmful for students.

School administrations have conflicting beliefs of students taking mental health days because it means they will be missing an entire day of learning. Another concern is that students would abuse this benefit and skip school for non-mental health reasons. Besides, the process of enacting a new policy is complex and only a few states have adopted mental health day regulations.

When administrators have this point of view, they don’t recognize the challenges in students’ lives. Missing a single day of school does not amount to the numerous days in which students may have to take care of their younger siblings, work a part-time job or spend hours on sports practice and extracurricular activities. These, along with strenuous classes and AP courses, can be exceptionally difficult on students.

Mental health days would also need parental approval, so the likelihood of students abusing that benefit would be similar to any excused absence, such as being sick or going to an appointment.
“I know many students who would skip multiple periods and use appointments as excuses. A lot of my friends in high school would have loved the opportunity to take a mental health day because senior year was so stressful,” former WJ student Joey Galicia said.

The rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts among teenagers are escalating. One in six children between the ages of six and 17 experience a mental health disorder each year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A couple of states, such as Utah and Oregon, are already taking action by making mental health days an excusable absence.

WJ offers Wildcat Wellness, a mental health break within the school day. This time is extremely helpful to get work done, but it does not have the same effect of having a complete day off of school where students can recharge and have a change of scenery. If every school provided students with the option to take mental health days, the rate of teenage depression and anxiety would most likely be lower.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health and should be treated the same,” Galicia said.

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