A year into the coronavirus pandemic, some health officials worry the mental health of young Utahns is at risk.
Utah House Bill 81, sponsored by Rep. Mike Winder of West Valley City, would allow a mental health day to be treated like a sick day and be included among the list of excused absences for kindergarten through high school.
“We have some students who have challenges and may need a breather. We take care of our physical health, and this would put mental health on parity with that,” Winder told The Salt Lake Tribune in January.
The pandemic has also created mental health struggles for students at Salt Lake Community College, leaving some to wish for a similar excused absence policy at institutes of higher education.
SLCC student Rachel Holladay returned to school this week after taking a few personal days off to attend to her own mental health and said such an accommodation would be great for college students.
“It really impacted my grade,” Holladay said. “If I felt more allowed to take those days, it would have taken a lot of stress off taking a mental health day, because there should not be stress in taking days off for your mental health. That’s counterintuitive.”
Enrique Flores said he struggled with the amount of work he needed to manage between classes and his job.
“I used to do full-time school and full-time work and it was trash,” Flores said. “I needed a break badly. Anybody going to school should have that opportunity for that break.”
Lavinia Vete said mental health is important and should be protected not just for students, but Utahns of all ages.
“We’re put under a lot of stress and just because we learn how to adapt as you get older doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve a day off for our mental health. It is still a struggle even when you grow up,” Vete said.
But others, like Bethany Hunsaker, said she worries students might take advantage of such a policy.
“A lot of people use sick days for different reasons,” Hunsaker said. “I worry that they would use the mental health day for snowboarding, and they wouldn’t use it for reasons made.”
HB 81, which The Salt Lake Tribune reported is modeled after a program implemented in Oregon, would allow students to take a more proactive approach to their mental health. Currently, K-12 students can miss school for mental illness-related issues but tending to mental health is not on the list of permissible absences. The bill could also foster more awareness to the larger issue that Utah faces as sixth in the nation for suicide rates.
SLCC offers mental health services through the Center for Health and Counseling, which can be reached at 801-957-4268.