Washington State students to get mental health days off at school

Washington state students will be able to take mental health days off from classes at the start of the new school year.

A new law and state rules approved by the state superintendent will allow excused absences for children with symptoms related to mental illness, mental health issues and mental health appointments.

“Mental health is just as important as physical health and is just as important to overall well-being,” Bridget Underdahl of the superintendent’s office told the Seattle Times.

Traditional physical sick days will also be allowed.

The changes come as studies report that more and more young people are suffering from mental health issues, including depression and suicidal thoughts.

The trends started even before the pandemic, making anxiety, depression and stress even higher, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced children’s trauma and coping skills, and returning to ‘normal’ has brought its own stress.

The CDC says more than a third of high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless in 2019, up from just over 25% with the same feelings 10 years ago. The Pew Research Center found that 70% of teens cited anxiety and depression as significant problems among other teens.

“Many of the families I serve feel shamed and blamed by the truancy system when their children struggle to maintain their well-being and they can’t attend school because of it,” said said Jerri Clark, who founded Mothers of the Mentally Ill. “There’s so much stigma about missing school because of a mental wellbeing issue.”

Washington state isn’t alone in accepting mental health days. States like Utah, Maine and Illinois have added excused absences for mental health reasons. Other states have introduced measures, including Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri and Pennsylvania, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Washington students have no limit on the mental health days they can take.

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