This July 2019, Oregon passed a law that allows students to take five mental health days during a three-month period during the school year, if needed. Furthermore, Utah now allows mental health days to be considered excused absences. Today, with high-schoolers across the nation dealing with school-related stress and anxiety, such laws and bills are a big step forward in acknowledging the pressures that students go through.
A mental health day allows students who feel overwhelmed or emotionally unwell to take a day off from school. New York hasn’t implemented mental health days, but it does mandate mental health education in all schools. Here at Bronx Science, our students have a rigorous course workload: many of our students take several honors and AP courses, and often participate in sports and clubs that meet after school has ended for the day. Seniors are especially busy now with the college application process. Perhaps New York City public schools should consider implementing mental health days.
Part of why students feel so stressed are due to the classes that they take. Teachers play a key role in determining the amount of homework that is given to students and the difficulty of tests. Many students believe that teachers don’t truly know how much is on their plate. “Teachers and advisors only focus on getting work done,” Wagiha Mariam ’22 said. The pressure to prepare for tests and complete homework makes students feel more stressed because they are already occupied with other demanding courses. They feel like the teachers are not hearing them out. “Teachers don’t acknowledge that we have a lot of homework, they don’t always respect our mental health,” Dori Held ’22 said. With the demanding workload, there seems to be little time for recreation and de-stressing. “A lot of kids don’t have free time to focus on themselves,” Stella Sarkozy ’22 stated.
Some students think that mental health days have the exact opposite of their intended effect, resulting in more work the next day. Bronx Science students feel they can’t afford to miss a day, because they will have more difficulty catching up on all their missed and future work. Sadie Karp ’21 said, “A mental health day stresses me out more, as one missed day is many hours of work to make up.” If students plan to take a mental health day, it might result in a cycle where they’re taking days off because they are stressed from school. Meanwhile, the days off are stressful themselves.
Unfortunately, although mental health days are needed by some students, there are ways they can be negatively taken advantage of. “In theory, a mental health day would be a wonderful idea, but it would be very hard to distinguish a mental health day and an excuse to stay home. A mental health day is like being sick at home without medicine,” guidance counselor Ms. Mills said.
She makes a point. Mental health days can be taken advantage of and not be used for their intended purpose. Some students might use it to simply stay home so they won’t have to come to school.
Mills also stated that mental health days aren’t the only way to take a break from school. “Implementing an hour of meditation or setting a reward system will go much further than a mental health day,” she said.
Unfortunately, although mental health days seem critical to students, there are ways they can be negatively taken advantage of. “In theory, a mental health day would be a wonderful idea, but it would be very hard to distinguish a mental health day and an excuse to stay home. A mental health day is like being sick at home without medicine,” guidance counselor Ms. Mills said.
This is not to say that students nationwide should never take a mental health day. With the amount of work and stress they are dealing with on a regular basis, it is important that students consider it as an option, but they should do it in a way that won’t make them feel more stressed when they return back.
“The only way mental health days would work is if we all had a random day off from school where we could just relax,” Karp stated. However, she feels that such a thing is not possible because of the demanding workload.
Mariam proposes a more plausible solution. “Mental health days should be on a smaller scale, maybe like a period or a canceled test instead of a whole day,” she said.
In recent years, Bronx Science has made enormous strides in addressing our students’ mental health needs. Guidance counselors and social workers are readily available for students, and the school has integrated yoga and other relaxing recreational activities such as knitting. The school also hosts an annual mental health week, which recently took place from Oct 7 to Oct 11th, 2019.
With the number of perspectives on mental health, it is important to acknowledge that high school students nationwide are sometimes stressed and overworked, and that a break, if possible, would be beneficial for their well-being.