Linnea Sorensen is a 17-year-old student from Schaumburg, Illinois northwest of Chicago. She falls into a funk every time her girlfriend of four years leaves for her six-month stints with the Marine Corps. Linnea has trouble focusing on her schoolwork when she gets like this.
“I’m somebody who struggles with my mental health quite a bit,” she told NPR. “When you’re in school and not fully mentally there, it’s like you’re not really grasping anything anyway.”
Linnea isn’t alone. With the Pandemic and the rise in gun violence, teen mental health continues to suffer, and schools are struggling to meet their students’ needs. Many are short on therapists. The National Center for Education Statistics showed that only 56 percent of schools can adequately meet the mental health requirements of their students in need, and only 41 percent reported hiring new mental health staff.
However, the good news for Linnea Sorensen and many other students in need is that more and more schools around the country are giving kids time off for mental health days. A new Illinois law guarantees K-12 students at public schools five unexcused absences for mental health reasons. This comes with a country-wide trend of lawmakers acknowledging the mental issues that need to be addressed in the nation’s youth.
Almost half the country lives in a region with a mental health professional shortage. Government data states that an estimated 7,550 new professionals are needed to meet the requirements for national mental health.
States like Illinois, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Virginia are implementing policies to allow students to take off mental health days. Schools in Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Utah, and Washington DC are trying to help with less expensive solutions like in-class mediation, mindfulness exercises, and social-emotional training. Lawmakers and educators alike seem to be united behind the idea of supporting our nation’s youth.