Mental health days for students gain support in other states

A big part of getting back to routine is adjusting kids to the new school year, including all the stress and anxiety that can bring.

This comes at a time when the mental health of young people is getting more attention.

The state of Oregon is trying a new way to help families deal with these issues by adopting a new law which will allow students to take mental health days in addition to traditional sick days.

"It doesn’t matter.  If the student needs care, the student needs care, whether that’s a sprained ankle or a mental health day," said Pat McGillivray, of the Bethel (Oregon) School District.

That’s the philosophy behind the new Oregon law which will consider a mental health day an excused absence.  Students would be allowed to take up to five days in a three-month period or 10 days in a six-month period.

"I don’t believe the Bethel School district would discriminate between a mental health concern and a physical ailment as a reason for a student ailment," added McGillivray.

The state of Utah has had a similar law in place for several years.

David Langer, an assistant professor of psychology at Suffolk University in Boston who specializes in children and adolescents, believes there is a crisis of mental health in youth these days.

"Recently, a survey of youth said that only a minority of youth and adolescents reported they had very good or excellent mental health," said Langer, who believes the Oregon law will help reduce stigma of mental health issues.

Langer thinks a child who may have pretended to be sick because of stress, anxiety, or depression might now tell a parent how they really feel. "We could open up that communication."

Since teenagers can often be moody and hard to read, there’s some concern that young people might use these types of days as a crutch.

With issues like bullying and social media abuse, Dr. James Recht, a Cambridge psychiatrist, told Boston 25 News: "It seems non-controversial that for most kids growing up today, the actual real-life stressors and risks are greater than they were for previous generations."

The Massachusetts Department of Education told Boston 25 News that it’s currently up to each district to develop their own policies for absenteeism.

We checked with the legislative committee on education at the State House and were told there are no bills pending on this topic at this time.