Minnesota should follow the template of Illinois’ mental health days for students and expand the program to include adults.
When I began my career, “mental health days” were ridiculed as “being lazy for no good reason” days. A person had to be physically sick, not-able-to-leave-the-bathroom sick, to justify missing a work day. Thankfully, that has changed over time. Now (hopefully) people are staying home when they’re ill. And we’re more aware that psychological symptoms deserve our help and compassion.
Those symptoms are escalating. Children at the beginning of the pandemic had an increase in hospital emergencies dealing with mental health — 24% for ages 5 to 11 and 31% for ages 12 to17. This was only for the months of March through May.
Illinois students will be able to take five days off from school. The days will be excused absences and won’t need a doctor’s note.
Other states allowing student mental health days are Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia.
The Illinois mental health days begin in January when school districts are required to have a plan in place.
A mental health day is not a free day, for example when the fictional Ferris Bueller skipped school. On the contrary, when students have a second mental health absence, a school counselor will contact the student and encourage them to talk to a trusted adult. The counselor can also determine if students need more professional help.
The pandemic has amplified kids’ worries. An NPR report shows that young children are worried about their parents and themselves getting sick. Teens are worried about social and school issues, such as face-to-face learning after being online. Children of all ages are expected to need more help.
One piece that is missing from this excellent policy is parents and caregivers may not have the same access to days off. A student may need a day off, but a parent might have to decide the student has to go to school if the parent’s job doesn’t have enough paid time off.
Adults could use their own mental health days as well. For adults, we could say that a mental health day requires a follow-up from a counselor. Some workplaces have Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) already in place.
The Illinois bill doesn’t address the lack of access to psychological care. According to USA Facts, a nonpartisan and nonprofit organization, 30% of American adults had anxiety or depression symptoms on May 24. Yet 37% of the population live in areas with a shortage of mental health help. They estimate a need of 6398 professionals currently. In Minnesota, 31.58% live in an area with a shortage.
Scholarships for those interested in becoming counselors or social workers or expanded loan forgiveness programs for those who work in underserved areas might help this shortage.
This pandemic has made life tougher for most of us, physically and mentally. Let’s be compassionate to ourselves and financially support our mental health.
— This is the opinion of Times Writers Group member Linda Larson, a St. Joseph resident. She is the author of the national award-winning “Grow It. Eat It,” and “A Year In My Garden.” Her column is published the second Sunday of the month.
Originally published by Scitimes