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New York Lawmakers Consider Letting Kids Take Mental Health Days From School

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Should students be allowed to take mental health days from school?

Some New York State lawmakers think so and are considering a bill to make it happen.

The proposal follows similar laws already passed in other states.

While a lot of kids look forward to their teenage years, it can also be daunting.

"There's a lot of reasons school is really stressful. There's a lot of work. There's pressure on us for college. And then also, like, friends obviously can be really stressful. And then there's pressure from parents and stuff," student Eliana Cotter said.

Everyday stresses of doing well at school or fitting in with friends can cause anxiety and depression.

New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman thinks students should be allowed to take a mental health day instead of a sick day. He's sponsoring a bill that would make it an excused absence to take a day off from school to address mental or behavioral health issues.

"It's important because we're seeing more and more young people thinking about suicide. Having mental illness as a condition is something that we cannot ever take unnoticed," he told CBSN New York's Alex Denis. "So by allowing schools to have mental health days for students, we think that this will raise awareness among school administrators, teachers and families."

"I think that's a really good idea, because teenagers go through a lot of issues, struggles internally that they might not show to everyone, but, like, or even talk about," said student Gabbi Hanna. "But inside they might be dealing with something they don't know how to deal with. And having that day off or whatever it may be, might help them decompress a little bit before going back into the school environment."

"Some days I'd be... my brain would just literally be too tired to be in classes," student KJ Takahashi said.

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found 70 percent of teens in the U.S. view anxiety and depression as a major problem among their peers.

"It also gives schools a little bit a yellow flag. Not necessarily a red flag, but a yellow flag. Hey, maybe we should check on this person. Maybe they just needed some sleep, or maybe they're really struggling," pediatric psychiatrist Jodi Gold told CBS2's Hazel Sanchez.

"This new law would finally recognize that it's important to be physically well, as well as mentally and behaviorally well," Hoylman said.

WATCH: New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman Tells CBSN New York About The Bill 

Some parents worry students may abuse the option to stay home, while others support the idea.

"It would take some pressure off. Children are under pressure," parent Kay Wells said.

"I think sometimes it's good for children also to figure things out on their own and not to make everything a crutch in life," parent Paul Scharff said.

"No longer will a student have to lie about why they're staying home from school, and this conversation, hopefully, will be forced out in the open – not just with their teachers, but with their parents and their family members, too," Hoylman said.

Hoylman said the bill would help officials build evidence about the problem and support other "wrap-around services."

"By allowing students to take mental health days, we think that we will raise the level of services and begin that important conversation at the level of state government that we actually need more resources, more school psychologists and clinicians and physicians to examine this very important part of a student's well being," he said

He said the New York State Department of Education would likely collaborate with local school boards to determine the specifics, like how many days a student could take off.

The Department of Education said it couldn't comment on proposed legislation.

Denis asked Hoylman if there is any concern that students could be bullied for taking these mental health days.

"I think that's a consideration that already exists, and that's why we're seeing greater amounts of self-harm, probably because of social media and our modern society and encourage that kind of interaction. But this is a safe harbor for students who may be undergoing that kind of threat in the school environment or at home," he replied.

Hoylman says students taking one day off wouldn't solve all the issues, but he believes it would open the doors to getting students the help they need.

Click here to read the Pew Center study on students' top concerns.

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