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'Mental health days' now among excused school absences in Oregon. Students who pushed for change say it's not coddling.


State reportedly has one of the worst absenteeism rates — and highest suicide rates — in the US

Photo by: Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Oregon students now can take "mental health days" away from school just like sick days for physical ailments after students pushed legislators to make the change, the Associated Press reported.

Students behind the measure said it's not coddling, the AP reported, adding that allowing "mental health days" is meant to change the stigma around mental health in a state that with some of the highest suicide rates in the United States.

Haily Hardcastle, 18, told the outlet she and other student leaders were partly motivated by student activism in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

"We were inspired by Parkland in the sense that it showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation," she told the AP.

Hardcastle also told the outlet that she and fellow youth leaders drafted the "mental health days" measure to "encourage kids to admit when they're struggling." Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed the bill last month, the AP reported.

Under state law, students are allowed five excused absences in a three-month period, the outlet said, adding that more absences require a written excuse to the principal.

What does a mental health advocate have to say?

Debbie Plotnik, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America, told the AP that changing how schools view mental health is a crucial step in challenging how society views it.

"The first step to confront this crisis is to reduce the stigma around it," Plotnik added to the outlet. "We need to say it's just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness."

The numbers

Suicide is Oregon's second-leading cause of death among those between 10 and 34 years of age, the AP reported, citing Oregon Health Authority data. Nearly 17% of eighth-graders reported seriously considering taking their lives within the last year, the outlet added.

Parental pushback

Hardcastle noted to the outlet that some parents have said the legislation wasn't necessary because students already can take mental health days by lying or pretending to be sick. Other opponents said the law will encourage students to find more excuses to miss school in a state with one of the worst absenteeism rates in the nation, the AP said, adding that over one in six students missed at least 10% of school days in the 2015-2016 school year.

But Hardcastle told the outlet that students might be less likely to lie about why they want a day off if mental health days are allowed.

"Why should we encourage lying to our parents and teachers?" she noted to the AP. "Being open to adults about our mental health promotes positive dialogue that could help kids get the help they need."

But one couple says it's a good idea

Roxanne and Jason Wilson noted to the outlet that having mental health days might have helped their 14-year-old daughter, Chloe, who committed suicide in February 2018.

The couple told the AP their daughter faced bullying after coming out as bisexual in middle school and would pretend to be sick so she could stay home.

"Because she lied to get her absences excused, we didn't get to have those mental health conversations that could have saved her life," Roxanne Wilson, who now manages a local suicide prevention program, noted to the outlet.

The Wilson's daughter was one of five teens to commit suicide in the Eugene area that month, the AP said.

"Calling kids coddled or sensitive will just further discourage them from being honest with adults about what they're going through," Jason Wilson added to the outlet. "We need to do everything we can to open up that dialogue between parents and children when it comes to mental health."

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