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Mental Health Days in Schools

Welcome to our Mood-E Blog

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November, 2021        

Written by, Cassie Cipolla 
Synergy eTherapy 

Cassie graduated from the University of Kansas in 2020 with a Bachelor’s of General Studies in Psychology and a minor in Applied Behavioral Sciences. She plans to pursue a doctoral degree (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology and is specifically interested in a neuropsychology concentration.

Cassie previously worked as a Permanency Family Support Worker for KVC Health Systems in Kansas where she worked alongside case managers, therapists, and other mental health professionals to provide direct services to children and families within the child welfare system. 

Mental Health Days in Schools

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For the past decade, the number of children, teens, and young adults experiencing mental health problems in America has skyrocketed. Now, almost two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, rates of depression and anxiety in youth are reaching an all-time high.

With anxiety, depression, and ADHD being among the most common mental health disorders in children, it’s no wonder that virtual learning, cancelled life events, isolation, and grief due to Covid-19  has only made matters worse. 


In fact, the CDC reported that beginning in April 2020 there was an increase in the proportion of emergency department visits related to children’s mental health. To give perspective, compared to 2019, “the proportion of mental health-related visits for children aged 5-11 and 12-17 years increased approximately 24% and 31% respectively.”


These alarming trends make clear the mental health crisis youth in America are facing, and have been facing for the past decade. 


In an effort to acknowledge and combat this crisis, youth advocates, state policymakers, and mental health professionals across the country are working to revolutionize the way we address mental health in schools. Many states have begun exploring and implementing legislation to increase and advance mental health education, require school-based early intervention and treatment services, and allow students’ mental health excused absences or, in other words, “mental health days.”

Oregon was one of the first states to take part in implementing ‘mental health days’ in schools, an achievement that can be credited to a group of 4 local high school student advocates: Hailey Hardcastle, Derek Evans, Sam Adamson, and Lori Riddle. 

Hardcastle, who later gave a TedTalk on the topic, shared her personal experience with mental health and how it led her to take part in forming a committee called Students for a Healthy Oregon whose mission is to prioritize mental health in schools. 

To do this, the committee partnered with lobbyists and mental health professionals and put forth House Bill 2191, a “bill allowing students to take mental health days off from school the same way you would a physical health day,”  Hardcastle shared, “Because oftentimes that day off is the difference between feeling a whole lot better and a whole lot worse.

This bill did not change the number of excused absences students are allowed to take, but rather allows students to use these excused absences for both physical and mental health reasons. This is something Hardcastle feels makes the bill really special, because it reflects the bill’s core concept: “that physical and mental health are equal, and should be treated as such.”

Since the passing of House Bill 2191 in June of 2019, many other states have followed in Oregon’s footsteps including Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Virginia, and most recently Illinois. There are even more states, however, that are following suit now with active legislation in progress in New York, New Jersey, Iowa, and Florida among others.


Mental health days in schools may seem like a minor change in policy, but in truth it is a major stepping stone towards bridging the gap between how we as a society address, treat, and view mental and physical health. 


By allowing schools to have a record of mental health related absences, House Bill 2191 also acts as a school-based early intervention effort by more easily identifying students who are struggling and referring them to the school counselor for a check-in. This will help schools take a more proactive approach in ensuring the mental wellbeing of their students. 

When Mental Health America asked youth ages 11-17 years old who were taking a mental health screen what was contributing to their mental health concerns, some of their responses included:

  • “I feel so disconnected and confused and alone.”
  • “I feel like no one else is feeling what I’m feeling, or feeling like no one is there for me.”
  • “Not knowing how to get help.” 
  • “I don’t know what is happening to me but I need help. I’m not okay.”
  • “Feeling so lost and alone.”
  • “…wondering what is wrong with me because no one else seems to feel this way.”
  • “I know people who I fear risk suicide but I don’t know how to help.”
  • “Never had enough help to know.”

The statistics are enough to sound alarm bells across the country, but at this point we have much more than numbers and percentages. Youth advocates themselves are speaking out, sharing their stories, and finding an immense amount of courage to ask, and even lobby and campaign, for the help they need and deserve. 

Not only have youth advocates effected change in terms of mental health days for students, they have also successfully advocated for the passage of bills, such as Virginia’s Education Law, that increases mental health education in schools. 

Allowing students to take mental health days, and advancing other mental health efforts, will not only show students that they are seen and supported by their community, but will also demonstrate, through example, that mental health is a priority. It will, as Hardcastle put it, “start teaching kids young how to take care of themselves and practice self care and stress management” and will also, quite literally, save lives. 

If you are or know of a teen who could use some online counseling to feel heard and learn ways to cope, please connect with one of our teen/adolescent therapists today for a free consultation.


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