Today’s children are dealing with unprecedented challenges. With constant information streams, political mayhem, rising costs, and school shootings, it’s a wonder that our kids are able to hold it together.
Mental health struggles are increasing at an alarming rate in America, and our kids’ mental health is being hit especially hard, with 20% of students being diagnosed with a mental illness every year. We’re in the midst of a mental health crisis, and one of the proposed solutions is to provide students with days off of school and work to take care of their mental health.
The Generational Gap in Mental Health Mentality
It’s important for all generations, from the Silent Generation to Gen Z, to understand the struggles that our children face today and not compare them to struggles from another moment in time.
There was a time a person wouldn’t think of taking mental health days, for fear of losing their job or being ridiculed by their peers. In fact, young women once faced being institutionalized for struggling with what we now realize are just common mental health challenges.
We’ve evolved as a society to be more socially aware and scientifically advanced when it comes to discussing and treating mental health struggles.
Why Are Mental Health Days Important?
As of Fall 2022, more than twelve states have adopted some sort of school district attendance requirements that allow students to take mental health days. More states have legislation pending. Some states require a doctor’s note, while others simply treat mental health days as excused absences.
Allowing mental or behavioral health days is important because of the mental health crisis we are currently facing. March 2022 study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed:
- 44% of U.S. high school students felt persistent sadness and hopelessness in the past year.
- 37% admit they had poor mental health during the pandemic.
- 36% say they experienced racism in the past few years.
- Up to 26% admitted to having suicidal thoughts.
While some adults worry that a child might be trying to get a free pass from school or avoid a test by utilizing mental health days, others realize that providing more mental health support and allowing children to take a mental health day will ultimately allow students to perform better in school and become more successful, emotionally responsible adults. It also builds critical trust between adults and children, as a child’s mental health is significantly higher when supported by trusted adults, according to the same CDC study.
To put it succinctly, mental health days are important because the mental health support of our children is important.
What Is A Mental Health Day?
Mental health days aren’t like sick days. A child shouldn’t be forced to stay in bed all day and be constantly probed with “How do you feel?” questions. During a mental or behavioral health day, a student doesn’t have to go to the doctor or speak with a mental health professional. A student should not need to have mental health conditions to be able to take a mental health day. The idea of a mental health day is to prevent a chronic mental health disorder from developing. When students take mental health days, it’s a time for them to be their authentic selves and do things that make them feel valued and empowered. It’s a day to let a kid be a kid.
- Be artistic with crafts, writing, drawing, or painting.
- Take a long walk at their favorite park.
- Play video games with few time limits.
- Rest and relax from a tough semester or busy week with stressful events.
Moreover, by allowing students to take mental health days, they learn that coping with and controlling difficult emotions is possible without using mind-altering substances like drugs or alcohol or resorting to other unhealthy coping mechanisms. Children should realize they can talk about their stress levels and anxiety without being ridiculed or made to feel small. They aren’t forced to push it down like previous generations and simply “Suck it up.”
What a Mental Health Day Is Not
Parents can look for telltale signs to help determine if mental health issues are the root cause for the requested absence or if it’s something else.
- “Just one more day…” Children who use this line could be trying to avoid a bigger conflict at school with mental health days. Ask your child why they think they need to take another day.
- Get Professional Help: It can be difficult for a parent to tell sadness from depression or other mental illnesses in their child. If you suspect your child is dealing with a mental health condition such as depression or OCD, one mental health day away from school is not going to solve their problems. Be aware of when it may be time to seek professional help from a therapist or psychiatrist.
How Can I Support My Child’s Mental Health Conditions?
Start by giving them the benefit of any doubt that might exist. If your state has allowed mental health days, then you should support that. No child is completely transparent with parents about what’s happening in their life. Just because your child doesn’t have five mental health reasons brewing doesn’t mean they don’t need a day off to just chill.
In order to support mental health-related conditions, you should talk about them but not in a “Son, we need to talk” format. Make mental health struggles and support part of regular conversation. Remind your child they are loved and special. Help them with anecdotes of struggles you have in a supportive way.
Parents should also closely examine the environment the children are in at home.
- Do they see passive-aggressive behavior?
- Is sarcasm the coping mechanism of the family?
- Do you, knowingly or obliviously, shut down their feelings when you are uncomfortable with the conversation?
- Are you too busy to talk about kids’ mental health?
- Do you see any of your own mental health struggles in your child?
Communicating effectively with your teen can be difficult. In a world of texting and emojis, there’s little training for face-to-face honest discussions between parents and children. Add in the busy schedules of all family members and the challenges of the pandemic, we’ve never been so closed off.
Encourage your child to be honest, even if they don’t want to share all the details. Try to broach the situation with calm emotions. Tell them not to wait until it’s too late. A few sad days can turn into a full-blown crisis. Mental health days are designed to avoid breakdowns. You don’t have to be “tough enough” to handle everything.
Advocate for Your Child
Young people struggled for decades with different challenges. Yet, never has a generation faced so many major events through the modern digital lens. We’ve never been more connected yet so disconnected throughout our entire history.
When Mental Health Days Aren’t Enough
If taking a mental health day off from school isn’t enough to help you regain a sense of mental wellness, consider seeking the help of a professional. Mental health days are designed to prevent youth mental health issues, but they may not always be effective in treating severe mental or behavioral health issues. If you have behavioral health concerns, consider contacting Clear Behavioral Health’s Teen Program.
At Clear Behavioral Health, we offer various levels of outpatient treatment for your teen based on their individual behavioral health needs. Our compassionate, professional team uses evidence-based therapies and holistic approaches to treat teenagers and adolescents in the Los Angeles, CA area.