Benefits to Student Mental Health Days

Ashley Smiley and Marsean Davenport

Many students have suffered from mental health issues in years past, but there has been an uprising since returning from the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Stress in America survey in 2020, more than two out of five Gen-Z teens said their level of stress in life had increased over the past year.

According to a 2017 APA Stress survey, 83% of teens identify school as a major stressor. Student stress doesn’t have to be unmanageable, and the implementation of Mental Health absences in Illinois schools hopes to relieve some of this for students.

Stress in Students

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 61% of students feel pressured to have good grades in school. This stress can cause problems in student performance.

“Stress mentally can impact memory; it can impact mood, social skill, [it can also cause] irritability and snapping on individuals,” said Shelly Fengolio, a health and gym teacher.
According to APA, “Chronic stress, experiencing stressors over a prolonged period of time, can result in a long-term drain on the body. As the autonomic nervous system continues to trigger physical reactions, it causes a wear-and-tear on the body,”.

Stress doesn’t affect only emotional health. Students are taught in health classes how wellness is a combined effort of physical, mental, emotional, and social health.

“Negatively, all of them [mental, emotional, and physical health] coincide with each other. If one is affected, all of them are going to fall down. It’s like a domino effect,” said Taylor Schwall, one of South’s student teachers studying Physical Education at Illinois State University.

Student stress can have negative academic effects as well. Students who have developed anxiety or depression from long time stress may struggle academically.

“It’s been difficult, in my experience with my students, for them to manage their time and to find motivation to follow through with turning things in which I think actually in turn creates stress.” said Jennifer Kostelz, a social worker for students with the last name S-Z.

According to APA, a 2020 survey found that 45% of students said they had a hard time focusing on schoolwork. Many also reported feeling less motivated

Self care is a recommended remedy to control stress. More students can take “self-care” days with the new implementation of Mental Health Days.

Anna Rodriguez, a current senior at South had this to say about mental health days.

“Mental health days has pros and cons too it, I feel as though a lot of people use those days to take a break and rest and the families that understand it allow their child to.” Rodriguez said.

According to Rodriguez, coming back from that absence also causes more stress.

“After I come back from an absence I feel more stressed out. Even just leaving for a day often puts me behind. Most of the time I have make up work to do that’s normally longer than the actual assignment done in class.” Rodriguez said.

In high school, not only are you worried about next week’s English, History or Calculus exam, but you’re also worried about applying to college and taking the SAT tests, too. It can all feel overwhelming, and you may feel pressure to please your parents and teachers. Harvard Summer School article

Mental Health Days

JB Pritzker vowed to help students in Illinois who were struggling mentally with coming back to school after the pandemic.

In January of 2021, he signed a bill requiring schools to allow students up to five absences related to mental health. These absences are excused and students are allowed to make up all missing work.

The bill 26-1 Student Mental Health Days states it “Allows students to take up to five mental or behavioral health days per year. A student is not required to provide a medical note and must be given the opportunity to make up any schoolwork missed during such absences.”

These days give students the opportunity to take a break from the stress school may cause.

The amount of mental health days a student takes is monitored, and after two days, a student may be recommended to reach out to a support system.

“We’re watching them. We’re watching how many students are taking, and we’re asking ourselves a question like ‘Does this student need support?’” said Kostelz.

Kostelz says students need help, they should reach out to a trusted adult at home. If home isn’t a safe space, there are many people at school who can help.

“Students should feel comfortable reaching out to a trusted teacher. Beyond that, there’s your guidance counselor and your social worker. Even your dean,” said Kostelz.

Laura Swenson a counselor who has dealt with students using mental health days gave some tips on how to ease that stress .

‘Time management is very important in high school. Many people have gone away with assignment books, but don’t know how I personally would survive without mine.” Swenson said.

According to Swenson, usually when families call for the day its something serious going on personally for that student.

“When families call me to let me know their child is taking a mental health day it is usually because they have something very serious going on in their family life.” Swenson said.

If students are ever in danger, they can call the National Suicide Hotline number 988, or text HELLO to 741741.