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Mental health days off from school may soon become a reality in New York state

Mental health days off from school may become a reality in New York
Mental health days off from school may become a reality in New York 02:31

PLAINVIEW, N.Y. -- Lawmakers in New York state are considering joining a dozen other states that allow students to take mental health days off from school.

The proposal is expected to be introduced this month in Albany. The intention is to make emotional wellness a health priority.

The stresses of growing up, amplified by the isolation of the pandemic, have created a generation of anxiety and depression, with suicide on the rise.

In South Huntington, Walt Whitman High School now offers students counseling at a nearby urgent care center, removing the stigma of asking for help.

"Students who are kind of maybe struggling and may just need a day to go somewhere," senior Hasham Coudrey said.

New York is considering going even further. The bill would add school mental health days off, like sick days.

"If parents see mental health as equal to a sick day, maybe they would allow it and it would help kids who are struggling," Walt Whitman High senior Eliana Kazin said.

Experts who work with teens say it would open communication with parents, and can spur life-saving intervention.

"If a child is communicating, 'I want to take one of those mental health days,' you now have an opportunity to not only discuss it; you help the conversation become very natural about mental health," said Kathy Rivera, executive director of North Shore Family Guidance Center.

However, not all educators think yet another day off from school is most effective.

"As teachers and administrators, we love and support our students 100% and want to help determine the cause of these mental health issues. Then it can be everyone's mission to help students fix that problem. If tests or classroom assignments are the cause of students' distress, teachers can find a solution. Conflicts at home or social media interactions can spark depression and anxiety. School social workers and guidance counselors can work with families and students to help resolve problems and make a positive impact. If a student stays home for a mental health day, although it may sound helpful, an extra day off still doesn't get to the root of the problem. In fact, it can even lead to chronic absenteeism, while the problem remains hidden and unresolved. Helping students cope and resolve stressful situations is the helpful and correct solution," said Dr. Shari Camhi, superintendent of the Baldwin Union Free School District.

When asked if he thinks students would take advantage, Coudrey said no, adding, "especially with having kind of a limit of three to five days."

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The state Department of Education would determine the limit of mental health days. All work must be made up. Plainview/Old Bethpage JFK High School has allowed them, and the principal reports no abuse of the system.

"Not at all. We were able to identify some students that were using them more than we wanted to see, which gave us an opportunity for the assistant principal and social worker to reach out to the family to say what can we do to help your child?" Principal James Murray said.

Advocates say it ought to be for teachers, too.

"Burnout is real. I think we look at burnout as a separate category and it's not. Burnout is the cumulative effect of how life stressors impact our overall mental health," said Eric Kussin of the #SameHere Global Mental Health Movement.

The proposal has been introduced and failed in Albany for four years, but with data showing the pandemic dramatically impacted mental health, supporters say there is new urgency.

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