As days go further into the new year, there have been multiple bills that are being put into effect. One in particular allows for Illinois students to have five mental health days without a doctor’s note.
The new bill states “With absence for cause by illness being required to include the mental or behavioral health of the child for up to 5 days for which the child need not provide a medical note, in which case the child shall be given the opportunity to make up any school work missed during the mental or behavioral health absence.”
This law has been instituted just as the third strand of COVID-19, Omicron, sweeps the nations, specifically Chicago. Omicron is highly contagious, and school days have become more unpredictable. Students have been left in the gray area on what school administrators are deciding to do in regards to being online or in person. The continuous back and forth has created instability for many students’ lives. This creates a school environment filled with anxiety and worry.
Even before the third strain of COVID-19 started to ravage the world, Dr. Kincaid, Woodlands Academy’s psychologist, explains that “the pandemic heightened our awareness of mental health and the relationship between mental and physical well-being.” Like Dr. Kincaid said, as the nation has focused more on health and our well-being, the government and medical community have become more attentive to the effects the pandemic has on mental health.
While speaking with junior, Clara Bartusiak, she speaks a little bit on why JB Prtizker signed this bill now. She explains, “that [the government] are realizing students are some of the most at-risk groups when it comes to mental health, especially after having to go to school virtually or hybridly.” School is supposed to be a place that provides structure in a student’s life. However, the constant change and unpredictability has caused nothing but instability.
Not only has instability been a cause for increased anxiety, but the school day has become overwhelming for some students. When speaking with senior Scarlett Montalvo, she says “ I have had so many days that I just want to stay home and detox from a busy week, but it doesn’t count as an excused absence. I really need these days.” Dr. Kincaid notes that the reason for these intensified anxious feelings are the cause of “the multiple adjustment challenges of remote learning, increased screen time, social isolation, and prolonged stress.”
Based on a National Survey, more than 50 percent of K-12 employees have felt feelings of stress, burnt out/fatigue, and/or anxiety. Also, around 90% of these employees “are concerned about students in their school falling behind as a result of the pandemic.” With teachers and staff being more overwhelmed than ever, students are also feeling that pressure, as Montalvo says. Teachers are now overcompensating for the amount of information lost during the pandemic leading to the abundance of students feeling overwhelmed.
The government officials are finally seeing and acknowledging these challenges that students are facing. In addition to the break these days provide, they will also provide support that students need. When a student takes their second mental health day, they “may be referred to the appropriate school support personnel.” This will help to deter any students that will use this day, but it will provide students, who are really struggling, the necessary help they need. Bartusiak says, this law is “creating concrete ways for students to find support in schools.”
Despite all the good that this law creates, students might feel discouraged from taking these mental health days. Montalvo expresses that “teachers and school systems make it difficult for students to take a break and not feel left behind.” Bartusiak makes a point that most students (before COVID) would go to school even if they are physically sick because students “don’t want the added pressure of making up work they missed.” As well as requiring students to see a professional when having mental health days, this bill should require more support regarding the work that is going to be missed. The mental health day might alleviate some stress during that moment. It won’t stop the student from continuous stress, which will be brought by missing these school days. This creates a cycle of infinite anxiety and days missing.
Overall, this is a great first step from the government, said by both students, and the guidance psychologist. Knowing that state legislators are aware of these problems in order to continue providing assistance to our future generation.