More states are allowing children to take mental health days – The Washington Post

With child mental health problems on the rise in the past few years, a growing number of states have adopted laws that let students take an excused absence if they feel anxious, depressed or need a day to “recharge.”

A dozen states already have measures in place that allow kids to take off for mental health and not just physical health reasons. A handful of others* are considering making similar changes to school absentee rules.

The move is a recognition of a disquieting trend: In December 2021, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy issued an advisory declaring a mental health crisis for American children, citing “an alarming number” of young people struggling with “feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide.” Between March and October 2020, the height of the pandemic, the percentage of children visiting the emergency room for mental health issues rose 24 percent for children ages 5 to 11 and 31 percent for children ages 12 to 17, according to the Children’s Hospital Association.

In 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the second leading cause of death among teens, a 31 percent rise over 2019

Christine M. Nicholson, a clinical child psychologist in Kirkland, Wash., who sees many children with mental health struggles, said she supports this effort to allow mental health days. She said kids sometimes need to skip school, go for a hike, see a movie or even stay home and bake a cake or watch a movie.

“I think mental health has to be appreciated as much as physical health,” she said. “Kids are having a tough time, and they need a break.”

“The pandemic, with its isolation, didn’t help,” said California state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat who introduced a bill that was signed into law in 2021. The bill does not specify how many days a year a child can take. Portantino, whose brother Michael took his own life in 2010 at age 52, said he hopes other families can avoid the tragedy his family suffered: “The pandemic exacerbated the need, but if it can hasten the fix, then that is something positive.”

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