Even before the pandemic, instances of mental health crises among teens were on the rise, making classrooms a focal point for addressing mental health challenges.
That’s why Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a bill this summer that allows students to take up to five excused mental health days starting in January 2022. Students who elect to take a mental health day do not have to provide their school with a doctor’s note and will be permitted to make up the work they missed without penalty.
“Having this now for all students across the state will be really beneficial, especially with what’s going on with Covid,” State Rep. Barbara Hernandez, who co-sponsored the bill, told the Journal-Courier. “Many students feel stressed and have developed anxiety and depression because they’re not able to see teachers and friends and may have lower grades due to remote learning.”
Child psychiatrists expect more children to need help
Children have endured a particularly hard time dealing with the unique constrictions of the pandemic, which, according to child psychiatrists, will likely result in a surge of kids who need help once the new school year begins.
Between March and May of last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that hospitals nationwide experienced a 24 percent increase in the number of mental health emergency visits from kids between the ages of five and 11 and a 31 percent increase from kids between 12 and 17.
“The younger school-aged kids are more anxious about separation from their parents and caregivers,” said child adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Ujjwal Ramtekkar at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio in an interview with NPR.
Teens, on the other hand, will struggle with social and academic anxiety and are worried about having to socialize with their peers again and re-adjust to full-time learning in person.
The new law is designed to help kids get care
Students aren’t penalized for taking mental health days, however, once they request a second mental health day, a school counselor will contact their families to discuss possible next steps, such as referring them to get professional help.
Several states have taken similar steps
Illinois joins other states that have already passed bills that allow students to miss school in order to take care of their mental and behavioral health such as Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, and Virginia.
School districts in Illinois have until the end of this year to prepare a plan in accordance with the new law.