I can’t have a breakdown, I have homework

Why mental health days are not working


On January 1, 2022, a law signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker went into effect allowing Illinois public school students to have five mental health days, without a doctor’s note. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study in the fall of 2020, showing there was a 24% increase of mental-health-related emergency room visits for children between the ages of 5 to 11 and a 31% increase for children 12 to 17 from April 2019 to April 2020. In theory, mental health days allow students to take a break and come back to school ready to learn without falling behind. However, mental health days are not as effective as intended, due to the limited number of days given, the fear of falling behind, and the lack of support from schools. 

Five days is not enough for mental health days to be effective. There are 176 days of school for CPS students. Students are allowed five days off. That is one day off per quarter along with one extra day. Mental health issues are an everyday struggle that do not stop simply because of school, so if a student has already used all of their allotted mental health days – then what? There is no clear plan on what happens when the five day limit is exceeded and how students are meant to approach mental breakdowns and days of rest from that point on. 

Additionally, even if a student is not feeling well enough to go to school, they are often pressured to go due to fear of falling behind. It is no secret that Jones College Prep students have a rigorous course load and being in class is essential for success. Missing one day of school is missing an essential lesson and content that will show up on a future test. On top of playing catch-up for the work that was missed, students must also take on the course load assigned to them the days they are in school. While talking to my classmates, the one thing stopping us from taking a day off is the additional stress of catching up. The increased workload is another cause of mental stress and requires another mental health day to be taken. 

Finally, mental health days alone are not enough to fix poor mental health. Many students do not have access to a therapist or even the ability to see their school counselors regularly. Students are left to take a day off and then come to school and act as if all their problems are solved without any resources helping them or anyone checking in with them. What is the point of implementing mental health days if there is no one to check in to make sure their mental health is getting taken care of?

All in all, mental health days are excellent in theory but are just not effective in actually helping students long-term. So reach out to your counselors, representatives, lawmakers and anyone who will listen and be willing to help you make a change. Advocate for unlimited mental health days and fight for more reasonable and stress-free ways to make sure you are not getting bombarded with a whole lesson to catch up on after a day off. Reach out to someone for help. Remember no one is alone in the mental health battle and that you are not the only one struggling. It is okay to take a break, and students should not feel like they are being punished the next day with the additional workload.