Illinois Kids Can Take Mental Health Days Off From School This Year

by Kristina Johnson

Illinois’s new law is amazing

Unbelievable as it seems, kids heading back to school right now are entering their *third* academic year that’s been impacted by the pandemic. Children have had to endure so much since the pandemic began in 2020 — and one state is recognizing that even little ones deserve some time to process it all. Illinois has enacted a new law that will let kids take up to five mental health days off from school — without needing a doctor’s note or any other sort of explanation.

How amazing is that? Most adults couldn’t function without taking a mental health day every once in a while, so it makes total sense that kids need and deserve the same. “When students are struggling with their mental health, the last thing they need is the added stress of being penalized for missing school,” one of the bill’s cosponsors, state senator Robert Martwick, said on Twitter.

The time off will be counted as an excused absence, and students will be able to make up any work they miss. The law will take effect in January, and it’ll be up to individual schools to figure out how exactly to manage any time off a student takes.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show just how necessary a policy like this is. Between January and October of 2020, mental health-related visits to the emergency room for children and teens increased by roughly 25 to 30 percent (the increase became even more prominent around April 2020, not long after schools across the country started shutting down). Another study showed that the rate of anxiety and depression among kids has basically doubled since the pandemic began, now affecting around 1 in 5 kids.

Illinois kids who take advantage of the policy will also get some professional support, according to another co-sponsor of the bill, state representative Barbara Hernandez. After day two, they’ll be connected with a school counselor to see if professional mental health services are needed (which will hopefully help silence the inevitable nay-sayers who say the bill will simply lead kids to play hooky).

If this trend catches on in more states, it could do wonders for mental health among children after a year plus in which it’s been absolutely battered. And luckily, it looks things might be headed that way — according to the New York Times, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia all have similar bills. That’s 8 states down, 42 to go.