Proposed Bill Will Bring Mental Health Days for Students in Florida
A change could be coming in Florida, with proposed mental health days for students. The proposal was recently approved by a House panel in the state, and it would allow teens to cite mental health as their reason for excused absences. The bill, HB 315, would also let school districts change their attendance policies so one mental health day each semester would be permitted for students.
Currently, under Florida law, students must have a doctor’s note if they want to take time off school due to mental health reasons. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, who sponsored the bill, said the goal is to address the rising rates of anxiety and depression among young people and to help promote communication between parents and children regarding mental health topics.
Mental health and teenagers are a topic of much discussion in Florida and nationwide, and the effects of school on mental health are also one part of a growing problem. For example, the Florida legislation creators cite issues that young people face at schools such as active shooter drills, bullying, and academic stress.
Mental Health Days Could Help Improve Teen Mental Health
With teen anxiety and depression rates at an all-time high and teen suicide prevention a top priority around the nation, many other states have already enacted legislation similar to what’s pending in Florida.
For example, Oregon students get five mental health days per school year, and Utah recently implemented mental health days. New York’s state legislators have proposed a law that would also pave the way for student’s mental health days.
In Florida, the bill would leave the enforcement of absences up to individual school districts, but there are critics of the bill. For example, some say there are enough days off for students with given holidays and teacher institute days.
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, among Florida high school students, 28% said they experienced feelings of depression for two or more weeks in a row to the point it interfered with everyday activities. Eighteen percent of male students and 38% of females said this was the case for them in 2017. Fourteen percent of Florida students in 9-12 grade said they’d had suicidal thoughts, attempts, or related injuries in 2017.
For Florida residents under the age of 34, suicide is the leading cause of death, and Florida’s suicide rate is higher than the national average. Nationally, death rates from suicide have increased by 56% among people aged 10 to 24.
Ending the Mental Health Stigma
According to a survey from Mental Health America, almost 55% of 10,000 surveyed people said they felt they get punished for taking a day off to deal with their mental health.
Along with facilitating more communication between parents and teens, by providing mental health days, perhaps it could normalize the need to care for your mental health just as you do your physical health. It could show teens that dealing with mental health issues in adolescence is normal, and this could help reduce the stigma around mental health.
Often when young people take days off for mental health, the feeling is that they lie about why. Proponents of excused mental health days in schools feel that when young people feel they can be open, it can help promote a positive dialogue.
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Hollenbeck, Sarah. “Should Florida students get mental health days off of school?” ABC Action News, October 15, 2019. Accessed March 2, 2020.
Karlis, Nicole. “Students take mental health days off, a Florida bill proposes.” Salon, October 21, 2019. Accessed March 2, 2020.
CBS Miami. “Mental Health Days Sought for Florida Students.” February 4, 2020. Accessed March 2, 2020.
HHS.gov. “Florida Adolescent Mental Health Facts.” November 14, 2018. Accessed March 2, 2020.
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