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#JamesDonaldson On #MentalHealth – Why #Students Are Taking #MentalHealthDays Off From #School — And How To Make The Most Of Them

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Laura Yuen, Star Tribune

#Minnesota was the first state in the nation to allow #students to be excused from #school for #mentalhealthconditions that required ongoing treatment.

But since that law was passed in 2009, a crop of other states have surpassed us — ensuring that #students can take the occasional day off even if they’re not seeking care for a #mentalhealthdiagnosis.

My friend in the #Chicago area told me she called in a #mentalhealthday for her #teen #daughter — simply a time to reset and recharge — and that’s how I learned that #Illinois allows up to five such days a year without requiring a doctor’s note. #Arizona, #Colorado, #Connecticut, #Maine, #Nevada, #Oregon and #Virginia all have passed similar legislation over the past few years, and in many of the cases, the efforts were led by #students, according to the #NewYorkTimes.

#Minnesota could re-establish its lead on this issue and give #students more agency to care for their overall well-being. Young people need to know it’s OK to admit they’re struggling, and there’s no better time to offer them this assurance.

More than one in three #highschool #students have experienced “poor #mentalhealth” during the #pandemic, according to results of a survey published by the #CentersforDiseaseControlandPrevention this month. About 44% of #students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or #hopelessness, almost 20% seriously considered #suicide, and 9% attempted #suicide in the year leading up to the survey, which was conducted in the first half of 2021.

So dire were the signs that the the U.S. Surgeon General issued an urgent warning about a #youth #mentalhealthcrisis last December.

#JamesDonaldson notes:

Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for #mentalhealthawarenessandsuicideprevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.

Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.

Having gone through a recent bout of #depression and #suicidalthoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space.  #http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle

Order your copy of James Donaldson’s latest book,

Celebrating Your Gift of Life:

From The Verge of Suicide to a Life of Purpose and Joy

So, can #students be excused for #mentalhealthdays in #Minnesota without a doctor’s note or medical diagnosis? I put that question to the state’s education department. Spokesperson Ashleigh Norris explained that because #Minnesota is a local control state, each #school district determines what is considered an excused absence.

“There is nothing in #Minnesota law that would preclude a district from determining that a #mentalhealthday would count as an excused absence,” Norris said.

On the flip side, I would conjecture there is nothing precluding a district from determining that a #mentalhealthday would not count as a valid absence. It’s up to parents to navigate this gray area. You may decide to keep your #child home even if there’s no formal designation for #mentalhealthdays at their #school.

Clinical #pediatric #psychologist Jasmin Searcy-Pate believes so much in the power of a #mentalhealthday for #children that she recently wrote a picture book in which the main character, a girl named Olivia, takes a day off to soothe the knots in her stomach. After a day of rest and meditation, Olivia goes on to star in her play and win her gymnastics meet.

Searcy-Pate, who completed her specialty training at Children’s #Minnesota, says kids are like #adults — they can experience loss, #depression and #anxiety. The idea is to teach them early how to take care of themselves.

“Oftentimes caregivers may say, ‘Oh, this #child, they don’t have anything to worry about. They have a bed to sleep in, they don’t have bills to pay,’ ” said Searcy-Pate, a clinical assistant #professor at the #UniversityofIllinois #Chicago. “But the reality is that they experience these stressors. And we, as #adults, need to be giving the tools to them, even saying, ‘Hey, it’s OK to take a step back and recover.’ “

But how should you assess whether your #kid should take a #mentalhealthday — and how should it be spent?

While “I don’t wanna go to #school” may be a popular refrain in your household as it is in mine, that doesn’t necessarily mean a day off is warranted. Searcy-Pate says caregivers need to explore what may be driving a child’s refusal to attend class. Ask the #teacher if they’re experiencing any challenges, such as transitions to new activities or bullying. If we #parents keep them home because they failed to prepare for a test, for example, we are teaching them avoidance — and that will only increase their #anxiety in the long run.

If you do allow a #child to take a day off, make sure you place some boundaries and articulate the why behind it, she cautions. She often tells young people that the purpose of the #mentalhealthday is to focus on their social and emotional learning.

“We’re actually recovering. We’re practicing our skills. We’re engaging in artwork. We’re journaling,” she said. “But we’re not on video games. We’re not on the phone or on #TikTok or making videos.”

It’s also a good time to engage with your #child and explore whether they could benefit from seeing a #mentalhealthprofessional, Searcy-Pate said.

In #Minneapolis, #children have not only experienced the disruption and loss associated with a #pandemic, but the reverberations from #GeorgeFloyd’s murder, rising gun violence, and a #teachers’ strike that, no matter how worthy its cause, locked them out of classrooms for nearly three weeks and smashed fragile notions of stability. Families of color, low-income #kids and #students with disabilities have borne the brunt of the upheaval.

In a year like this, it may seem absurd to allow our kids to take yet another day off. But there are grim consequences when we don’t give young people the tools to talk about their emotional struggles. #Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Minnesotans who are 10 to 24 years old.

Among those who advocated for Oregon’s #student #mentalhealthday law, one of the first in the nation, were #parents Roxanne and Jason Wilson. Their #daughter, Chloe, was bullied after coming out as #bisexual in #middleschool. She took her own life at the age of 14.

The Wilsons told the Associated Press that Chloe pretended to be sick so she could stay at home. They believed the law could have saved her life because she might have opened up more about her #mentalhealth, rather than lying to get her absences excused.

Some grown-ups will call this national movement for #mentalhealthdays the work of a coddled generation. But as #parents, we ought to teach our #children to live with emotional honesty. A day off could be the chance for them to not only recharge, but to tell us when they need help.

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