Excused Absences for Mental Health

Did you know that under a 2021 California law, public school students can take up to five days of excused absences for mental health, no questions asked?

We are experiencing a youth mental health crisis in California and across the nation. It is thus important to recognize the importance of occasional mental health days as preventative to prolonged mental health issues that can stand in the way of student academic performance and wellness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in five adolescents experience a major depressive episode each year.  Adolescents’ developing brains, coupled with hormonal changes, make them more prone to depression. Up to half of all mental health conditions start before the age of 14.

Children in low-income communities of color are at even higher risk.  According to the World Health Organization, young people from minority and migrant communities are affected disproportionately by mental health conditions. Sociocultural factors, such as lower education levels, poverty, exposure to domestic violence and abuse and low decision-making power tend to increase the risk of depression.

Students are struggling, they are increasingly reporting chronic feelings of sadness or hopelessness. In addition to depression, between 50% to 75% of adolescents suffer from anxiety disorders and impulse control disorders, such as conduct disorder or ADHD, and suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth in the United States.

For more information on SB 14 excused mental health for California schools, please reach out to your schools district office to learn more about their absence policy.

Take a Brake

Mental health is a critical part of overall health and well-being, and our lawmakers are recognizing it. The occasional mental health wellness day can keep a student in a healthy frame of mind. It also teaches students to prioritize their mental health from an early age. Unfortunately, many students and parents do not know about the recent change in law, it is crucial to create awareness.

According to a 2020 national survey of youth, 51% of respondents identified mental health breaks/absences as the second most critical mental health support, only after access to mental health professionals.

What can parents do?

  • Allow your student to take occasional mental health days when needed.
  • Let others know about this change through your school’s parent and/or student groups.
  • Ask your school’s leaders whether attendance policies mention mental health absences.

Students Should Know

When should you take a mental health day?

  • You feel burned out.
  • You won’t be able to mentally (or don’t have enough energy to) handle the school day.
  • You’re struggling with a diagnosed mental health issue, or mental health in general.

What a mental health day should be

  • Catching up on rest and/or sleep.
  • Recovering from a stressful event that would keep you from engaging in class.
  • Consulting a mental health professional.
  • Taking preventative action to care for yourself.
  • Not for avoiding issues that can be addressed at school, catching up on academics only or partaking in activities detrimental to your health.

How to take a mental health day

  • Accept you need a break.
  • Let your parents/guardians know.
  • Have your parent/guardian call the school.

Source: Community Equity Collaborative