Teen activists from the state of Oregon received secure backing from lawmakers and will implement a new law that will allow students to take ‘mental health days’ similar to sick days from school. The measure aims to curb rising suicide rates in teens.
Mental health has been making waves in topics of conversation as the issue is significantly on the rise. Mainly, suicide—one of the deadly side effects of declining mental health—is seen more in the younger generation as compared to other ages, based on global statistics.
Significantly, suicide has long been linked to depression. Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience a depressed mood, whereas it can include a loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, low energy, and poor concentration. In worse cases, people suffering from severe depression tend to isolate themselves from others such as friends, family, and even people who can help alleviate the illness–ultimately making the situation even worse.
More often than not, severe depression tends to lead people into having disturbing thoughts on ending his or her life.
In the state of Oregon, suicide is the leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34 years old, according to data from the state Health Authority. Nearly 17% of eighth-graders reported seriously contemplating taking their lives within the past 12 months.
Although the state does have a suicide rate that’s 40% higher than the national average, the national suicide rate has also been on the rise and recently hit a 50-year high, climbing more than 30% since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
To curb the rising death toll caused by poor attention directed to mental health, the state of Oregon is implementing a new measure that recognizes the issue and will treat it the way it does with other physical ailments.
Oregon’s mental health bill was signed by Gov. Kate Brown last month. The bill was an effort of student activists Sam Adamson, Lori Riddle, Hailey Hardcastle, and Derek Evans.
Now, under state law, students can have up to five absences excused in three months. Anything more requires a written excuse to the principal.
Debbie Plotnik, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America, said implementing the idea in schools was an important step in challenging the way society approaches mental health issues, the Associated Press reports.
“The first step to confront this crisis is to reduce the stigma around it,” Plotnik said. “We need to say it’s just as OK to take care [of] mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness.”
In the past, mental health has been brushed off as a temporary feeling and an experience that most teenagers go through as a part of “growing up” or puberty. This mentality has significantly affected how older generations react and address the issue.
In more recent years, mental health advocates have been working to change that mentality and encourage more conversations that it is a severe matter, and necessary steps have to be taken to curb the rising numbers.
Fortunately, people have started listening and are now chiming in on the topic, but it’s not just the adults who are creating waves with mental health.
Haily Hardcastle, an 18-year-old from the Portland suburb of Sherwood who helped champion the mental health bill, said she and other student leaders were partly motivated by the national youth-led movement that followed last year’s Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
“We were inspired by Parkland in the sense that it showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation,” she said. “Just like those movements, this bill is something completely coming from the youth.”
Though the bill received little to no opposition from lawmakers, parents say that the law will only give students more excuses to not attend school. The state also suffers from one of the worst absenteeism rates in the nation. More than 1 in 6 children missed at least 10% of school days in the 2015-2016 school year, according to state data.
Furthermore, some parents said that students could lie and use the flu or some other related reason as an excuse to not attend school on days that they are going through their mental health episodes.
However, parents seem to miss the point of the bill, Hardcastle noted. “Why should we encourage lying to our parents and teachers?” she said. “Being open to adults about our mental health promotes positive dialogue that could help kids get the help they need.”