Mental health days are on the rise, but what exactly do they entail? Essentially, a mental health day constitutes taking a break from work and other taxing responsibilities in order to avoid potential stress-related health problems, avoid burnout, and other mental health issues. High school specifically is known to be an incredibly stressful part of a person's life. The academic expectations in high school are high, as students are required to balance their time between multiple subjects, assignments, tests, and projects. Also, beyond academics and extracurriculars, high school students can struggle with social dynamics that can significantly impact their mental health. Having students take mental health days can be an opportunity to help them take time for themselves and reset, which will allow them to perform better later.
There is a proven need for mental health days. According to an APA Stress survey, around 83 percent of teens identify school as a major stressor. In A Verywell Mind & Parents Study, 75% of parents say they can be an effective tool to support a child's mental health. In a Harris Poll of more than 1,500 teenagers, 78% of them said schools should promote mental health days so students can prioritize their health. Mental health days are also becoming more recognized and in the last two years, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Virginia have passed bills allowing children to miss school for mental or behavioral health reasons. There is also an international day, October 10, dedicated to global mental health education, promoting awareness of this issue and combating the stigma associated with it.
Despite this support, there are many people still opposed to these mental health days. One argument against them is that if given the opportunity, students will take advantage of it and use these mental health days to skip school. However, mental health days have already been in place, and this has generally not been the case. Even if some students did take advantage of it a few times, the benefit of mental health days far outway the drawbacks, as it is protecting students’ wellbeing. Another argument against it is that it is detracting from students’ education since they are missing class. However, if students are struggling, they are less likely to focus on the material being taught, and if they are given a break, they will be more likely to pay attention. Others criticize it for being unnecessary and claim that people are fine without these days off. However generalizing everyone's struggles and assuming that just because you are doing fine means that they are is a bad idea. Everybody deals with their own challenges, and some people might need more support than others. A large majority of students experience mental health challenges at school, and if taking a day off to support their needs works, then it should be done.
Fortunately, at Barrack, a variety of mental health resources are offered, and if needed, mental health days are available. For more information about this, see the article “Feeling Blue” in Centerspread. Nonetheless, more can be done to normalize these breaks. Lingering stigma makes some students hesitant to share their reasons for being absent. To counter this, parents, faculty, and students should continue to make Barrack a supportive environment in which students feel comfortable prioritizing themselves and their needs.