Why Teens Are Advocating for Mental Health Days Off School

In the New York City school system, which has more than 1 million students, a day off for mental health or behavioral reasons “will be treated like any other sick day,” said Nathaniel Steyer, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Education.

The phrase “mental health day” may make some children and parents uncomfortable. With that in mind, the Montgomery County, Maryland, school board has decided that it will exempt absences taken due to “student illness and well-being,” beginning with the new school year.

“We didn’t want to call it a mental health day, because we know there’s still a stigma around that,” Carla Sylvester, vice chair of the school board, told Education Week in June.

Schools are also experimenting with other ways beyond mental health days to help students deal with their daily stress. The Jordan School District in southern Jordan, Utah, uses “wellness rooms,” where students can decompress for 10 minutes if they feel overwhelmed. Some schools in Colorado have created “oasis rooms,” a student lounge with peer counselors and other resources.

Melanie Zoe, 19, who attended high school in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, worked alongside other students to create the Oasis Rooms after her boyfriend committed suicide.

“When my friend died, I had no idea how to properly grieve,” she said.

Melanie, like Ben, felt that academics were the priority at her school, not self-care. At home, she added, “mental health was not talked about explicitly or explicitly.”

One advantage of declaring Mental Health Day and recognizing its importance at the state level is that, ideally, using this type of language could help families begin to have more open conversations about mental health topics, potentially reducing some, she said. Ms. Rothman said the stigma associated with self-care.

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