Illinois Students Allowed Five Mental Health Days From School

Logan Roever, Staff Writer

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It’s 2:00 a.m. and you’re trying to complete all your homework before the first bell at 7:20. Maybe you had work after school, maybe you were at sports practice or maybe you haven’t been feeling like yourself lately. You’re so tired and overwhelmed, what’s the point of doing any work?

Most EHS students have suffered through one of these nights before showing up to school. But, a new bill signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker may enable students to stay home when they feel mentally exhausted. The law will allow students to take up to five excused mental health days from school starting on Jan. 1, 2022. 

According to NPR, students will not have to provide a doctor’s note for the absence and will be able to make up their missed work. After a student takes two mental health days, they may be referred to their counselor for help. 

“Allowing students to have excused days for mental health is incredible,” 11th grader Eman Rana, president of the EHS Mental Health Awareness Club, said. “A lot of people are finally acknowledging that mental health is as important as physical health.” 

The timing of the bill is not random. After the last year and a half of uncertainty caused by COVID-19, there has been an increase in mental health struggles among students. According to the CDC, there was a 31% increase in mental health emergency visits for American kids ages 12 to 17 between March and May of 2020.

“It’s sad to me that it took a global pandemic for mental health to finally be looked at by society,” Rana said, “but better late than never.”

When polled, 77.4% of EHS students said that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their mental health.

“I think COVID-19 has definitely degraded many students’ mental health,” 12th grader Mitchell White said. “Being isolated for a long period of time has had significant psychological consequences for students.”

Last year’s hybrid schedule and remote learning interruptions, accompanied by the pandemic, have created a climate of stress for all ages of EHS students. 

“I think my transition from middle school to high school has been affected by COVID-19 drastically,” ninth-grader Karis Chen said. “We weren’t able to get as prepared for high school as we would have been in a normal year.” 

There are still uncertainties regarding the law and how it will affect EHS students. EHS has not set guidelines regarding mental health days yet, but there are potential problems that could arise if they are not clear. 

“Due to the intangible nature of mental illness or general mental instability,” White said, “it makes laws like this easy to abuse for those who just want a day off school and have no regard for people who legitimately need these breaks.” 

How mental health days will be distinguished from sick days at EHS, if they will be at all, is not yet known, but some feel that it is important to keep a distinction between them. 

“For District 7, I think sick days and mental health days should be separate because it can help diminish the stigma around mental health,” Rana said. 

Even though EHS has not released how the law will take effect in the school, the law is a statement by Illinois lawmakers that the mental health of students is important.

“I think this is a huge step forward to removing multiple stigmas around mental health within the education system,” Rana said.