The silent pandemic

New state law doesn’t provide students enough support for mental health


Poor mental health is a rapidly increasing problem; if it doesn’t affect you, it most likely affects someone you know. With mental health awareness rising in younger generations, schools are trying to find ways to help their students with this problem. Despite their efforts, schools are not doing enough to help students cope with their mental health issues. 

Illinois governor J.B Pritzker signed a bill on Aug. 25, 2021 that will permit students five excused absences per school year for mental health related reasons. This bill will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022 and applies to all public schools in Illinois. This new bill speaks to the mental health epidemic that is far too often ignored, but does not provide an efficient amount of support that children and teens who are struggling need. Students are facing more mental health issues than ever seen before and schools need to do more to support them. This bill merely acknowledges the issue, and does not establish a way to combat the problem.  

According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), the number of mental health related emergency department visits from April 2020 to October 2020 have increased by approximately 24% in children ages 5-11 and 31% in children ages 12-17, in comparison to 2019. During quarantine, mental health problems- especially for teens- have rapidly increased, making the problem more significant. This statistic proves that five mental health days will not solely be able to compensate for this increase.

Selective enrollment schools, such as Jones College Prep, can especially put students under a great deal of pressure, causing a bigger stressor onto a student’s mental health. Being able to balance a rigorous academic schedule along with other personal responsibilities is an overwhelming task. Thus, it is important for schools to acknowledge this problem and do their best to help students.  

Putting a limit on mental health days can cause students to feel as if they cannot take a day off because they only have so many to spare. Instead, students should be encouraged to take care of their mental health in ways that work best for them, not according to their school’s limitations. A student would not be told to come to school when they have COVID-19 just because they already missed five days, so there should not be a limit when a student feels the need to take a mental health break. Limiting the number of mental health days over the course of a full school year to five is far too low. At Jones, there is no set limit to the amount of excused mental health days a student may take. In fact, as long as the reason for a student’s absence is communicated with the school, whether the reason may be personal, physical, etc., the absence will be considered excused. Other schools should feel inclined to embrace the same policy as well.

While Jones handles mental health better than most schools, mental health days alone are not enough to compensate for the growing issue among people in younger generations. Schools must take action and give students more resources to help them.  

Although block scheduling is helpful to students, there is more the school can do to help students manage their mental health problems. AcLab is a prime example of the benefits of block scheduling because it makes the day less stressful, and allows students to catch up on missing assignments. That said, the school can still do more to assist students, such as emphasizing the importance of learning over grades. 

Some teachers in the AP Lang department have adapted a “pointless” grading system, where the student grades are based off of their effort and completion as opposed to the traditional point based system. This system of grading highlights growth over grades which has relieved many students of the pressure and stress which generally accompanies an AP course. If other teachers applied this grading system in their classes, students could learn the same content without the added stress.  

After a difficult year and a half of remote-learning and isolation because of COVID-19, the government and school system should implement structures that allow students to learn without the stress and pressure that accompany many institutions like Jones. This will help to combat the mental health issues rapidly increasing among school aged students. 

Fostering an environment that allows students to be more comfortable and open about their mental health is essential in addressing the current mental health crisis among students. While giving students excused absences for mental health purposes ackowledgesthe problem, it does not do enough to help it. Shifting the pressure surrounding grading is an essential first step to reduce the stress for students. Schools should be obligated to take more active steps to meet the mental health needs of their students