The Jury Talks Back

7/22/2019

Oregon: New Law Allows Students To Take “Mental Health Days”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 12:32 pm

[guest post by Dana]

The idea behind the law is to help change the stigma of mental health in Oregon:

Oregon will allow students to take “mental health days” just as they would sick days, expanding the reasons for excused school absences to include mental or behavioral health under a new law that experts say is one of the first of its kind in the U.S.

But don’t call it coddling. The students behind the measure say it’s meant to change the stigma around mental health in a state that has some of the United States’ highest suicide rates. Mental health experts say it is one of the first state laws to explicitly instruct schools to treat mental health and physical health equally, and it comes at a time educators are increasingly considering the emotional health of students. Utah passed a similar law last year.

Oregon’s bill, signed by Gov. Kate Brown last month, also represents one of the few wins for youth activists from around the state who were unusually active at the Capitol this year. Along with expanded mental health services, they lobbied for legislation to strengthen gun control and lower the voting age, both of which failed.

Oregon has some of the highest suicide rates of young people in the nation:

Suicide is Oregon’s second leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34, according to data from the state Health Authority. Nearly 17% of eighth-graders reported seriously contemplating taking their lives within the past 12 months.

And it’s not just an Oregon problem, although the state does have a suicide rate 40% higher than the national average. The national suicide rate has also been on the rise and recently hit a 50-year high, climbing more than 30% since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Opponents to the law argued that:

…the legislation wasn’t necessary, as students can already take mental health days by lying or pretending to be sick. Other opponents have said the law will encourage students to find more excuses to miss school in a state that also suffers from one of the worst absenteeism rates in the nation. More than 1 in 6 children missed at least 10% of school days in the 2015-2016 school year, according to state data.

Students who helped champion the mental health bill pushed back on the opposition’s argument:

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

Last year, during the month of February alone, five teens died by suicide in the Oregon city of Eugene.

–Dana

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