Beginning January 2022, students in Illinois will be allowed to have five mental health days off from school and won't need to show a doctor's note if they miss classes for this reason.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the law that would provide students between 6 to 17 years old with five excused absences if they want to take a mental health day off. Proponents of the bill said that the kids need such days off due to the pandemic's mental strains.
Rep. Barbara Hernandez, who co-sponsored the bill, said that many children "have developed anxiety and depression" in the last year after not seeing their friends in school. Some kids also couldn't cope with the stress of remote learning that their academic performance suffered.
Hernandez believes that giving children days off will prevent increasing mental health issues in kids. If students frequently use this privilege, however, they will be referred to counselors or appropriate personnel in the school.
Removing the Stigma
Sen. Robert Martwick, another co-sponsor of the bill, said that giving students mental health days off allows them to prioritize their well-being and help remove the stigma that comes with admitting that they are struggling with their feelings and emotions.
Providing kids access to help also ensures that they can address issues that they're dealing with. The senator believes that children should not be penalized for missing classes if they struggle with mental health issues.
When students are struggling with their mental health, the last thing they need is the added stress of being penalized for missing school. Thankful to @RepLaPointe and @GovPritzker for working with me to make this a reality. https://t.co/2IDffF3tKp— Robert Martwick (@robertmartwick) September 1, 2021
It comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report citing that hospitals across the country saw a rise in mental health emergencies involving children from March to May 2020. Cases have peaked at 24 percent for children under 11 years old, while cases for children between 12 to 17 years old increased to 31 percent.
According to Dr. Ujjwal Ramtekkar, young children are growing anxious over the fact that their parents, family members, or caregivers may contract COVID-19. On the other hand, teenagers are challenged by the lack of social interaction and anxieties about their academics.
Hernandez said that she's excited for the outcome of the new law as this will help the students, parents, and teachers as they will have a better understanding of what young kids are specifically going through.
Illinois will be preparing guidelines on executing the law before it takes effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
Similar Bills in Other States
Before Illinois, at least eight other states have enforced a mental health day off for students. These are Virginia, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Maine, Connecticut, Colorado, and Arizona. In 2018, Utah changed its "permissible illnesses" for students' absences to include mental health issues. According to Debbie Plotnick of Mental Health America, if children are allowed to miss classes if they have physical ailments, they should also be allowed to be absent for mental health reasons.
These changes reflect the need to support young kids' social and emotional development, aside from their academic enrichment. Schools now recognize that it takes more than high-quality instruction for children to succeed as adults, as they also need to build resilience, learn to handle issues, and cope with stress.
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