When Oregon students return to school this year, they will be able to take off days for mental health, without risking an unexcused absence – all thanks to a new law, which was proposed by a group of high school students.
The legislation, which was signed into law last month by Gov. Kate Brown, allows students to have an excused absence from school if they are missing school due to mental or behavioral health.
Across the state, students came up with the idea at a leadership conference last year, and have worked with lobbyists, as well as mental health professionals in order to push for the change.
One of the student advocates for the change – Hailey Hardcastle – said that mental health troubles can be just as dangerous as physical ailments, therefore should get the same kind of consideration.
“You take a day off if you have a cold, because resting up will make you feel better, and if you’re having a really bad anxiety attack or you’re going through a bout of depression, taking a day off can make you feel better,” Hardcastle said.
Under state law, students are allowed up to five excused absences within a three-month period.
Hardcastle pointed out that teachers normally allow students to make up tests or other assignments if they have an excused absence. She notes that all throughout high school, she has dealt with anxiety and the pressure of getting good grades, and gets involved with lots of activities in order to help get her into a good college. But all of that would leave her feeling overwhelmed.
“That caused me to have a ton of anxiety, and so sometimes, throughout high school, my parents would let me a day off — a mental health day. I found it super, super helpful,” she stated.
The 18-year-old graduated from high school this year and has plans to attend the University of Oregon in the fall.
She also stated that the new law wasn’t going to be a license to just skip school.
“The reality is, kids are already skipping school for mental health reasons. They’re just [using] tricks to make it look like you’re sick,” Hardcastle said. “They say they have a fever, a headache or something like that to make their parents to call them out of school for physical health when they’re really struggling mentally.”
She remains hopeful that this will allow kids and encourage them to be more open and honest with their parents and teachers.
“Then, the adults in their lives will know what’s actually going on, and hopefully, students who need help can get help in that way,” she added.
Utah enacted a similar law just last year.
According to a report by the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon’s suicide rate reached a record high in 2017. It found that just last year, 825 people died as a result of suicide. In Oregon, suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged between 15-24, and it’s the third leading cause of death in children aged 5-14!
Last month, Brown also signed Adi’s Act, which requires all Oregon school districts to develop comprehensive suicide prevention policies for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and in order to address the needs of LGBTQ students as well as other at-risk groups.
According to the governor’s office, the law is named for Adi Staub – a high school student who committed suicide after she came out as transgender.
Anastasia is an American writer and journalist living in Dublin, Ireland. Her Twitter is @AnastasiaArell5.