Feature

Mental Health Days: Solution to Stress or Anxiety Amplifier?

By Natalie Means, Staff Writer

// For some students, high school serves as an exciting and memorable chapter of their lives. However, others feel that high school is predominantly a source of stress and exhaustion due to challenging classes and endless expectations.   

   In the past, parents, faculty, and students failed to pay enough attention to issues like depression, chronic stress, and anxiety. Recently, though, more students have begun to vocalize the importance of maintaining a healthy state of mind. Especially after the Parkland High School shooting of Feb. 2018 and similar horrific incidents, calls to pay more attention to the mental well-being of teenagers have increased.

   Students in Oregon first introduced the concept of “mental health days” to help combat teen mental illnesses. 

   On July 1 of this year, Oregon legislators passed a law allowing high school students five mental health days for every three months of school. Similarly, the state of Utah accepts “mental health” as a valid excuse for absences. Currently, Oregon and Utah are the only states with revised laws that validate mental health days.

   Schools in Oregon and Utah hope students will use their time away from school to rest and get help when mental fatigue is extreme. However, these new laws come with a risk of enabling students to take advantage of this policy and frequently miss school.

   “I think [mental health days] could help benefit some students, but at the same time, I think you would have those who would abuse it too much and they would start falling behind even more in school,” senior Mikaela Valerio said. 

   Every two years, high school freshmen and juniors in California take the California Healthy Kids Survey. The 2015 survey found that 13 percent of ninth-grade students and 25 percent of eleventh-grade students have missed school because of a lack of sleep. Additionally, 7 percent of ninth-grade students and 23 percent of eleventh-grade students reported missing school because they were unprepared for a test or being behind in schoolwork.

   “I definitely think it would be helpful to be excused from school if you were lacking on sleep or extra stressed out,” sophomore Brooke Blacklidge said. “Sometimes I spend too much time doing work or sports the night before and won’t get to bed until late.”

   Acalanes teachers can attest to the sleepiness of some students day-to-day, but are reluctant to accept mental health days as the solution to sleep deprivation or other stressors. 

   “I do think there are a lot of students at Acalanes who are really stressed out, experience a lot of anxiety and depression, and there are a lot of people who are going through that, but I don’t know that mental health days in itself would be the solution,” Human and Social Development teacher Monica Voellm said.

   Although it appears that Acalanes will not be adopting a similar policy as Oregon and Utah, according to Acalanes Union High School District Superintendent John Nickerson, there are plenty of resources on-campus for students to seek help with their mental health. Namely, the Wellness Center.   

   “The idea of the Wellness Center is to give [students] a place to go and to connect them back to the classroom and provide them support and get them back in the classroom,” Nickerson said.

   The California Healthy Kids survey also reported that 8 percent of ninth-graders and 16 percent of eleventh-grade students have missed school because they felt depressed, sad, hopeless, anxious, stressed, or angry. Acalanes students utilize the Wellness Center for these specific emotions.

   “Depression, stress, and anxiety are probably the things that people come in for the most,” Acalanes Wellness Center Manager Allen Choi said.

   Since the opening of the Center last year, students now have a place to go to if they are feeling mentally fatigued or simply want to talk to mental health professionals. 

   Administrators currently see the Wellness Center as a better option for Acalanes students than mental health days, especially since there are certain drawbacks to taking time off from school. 

    “We know it kind of snowballs when you miss school and with stress and anxiety. The more you miss, the bigger that snowball becomes and the more difficult it becomes to re-enter reality. I love the idea of a no-worry, no-stress, take-a-day-off plan but I’m not sure how it is going to play out in the other states,” Nickerson said. 

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