Mental health will finally be treated like physical health in Oregon schools this upcoming year
Schools in Oregon will now treat mental health like any other physical ailment, so kids are now allowed to take a mental health day, if needed. Currently, the only “excused absences” in Oregon are for physical illness, a family member’s physical illness, doctors appointments, or emergencies. Students will no longer have to pretend to have a cold when they desperately need a mental health day. Now, mental health absences (along with absences due to physical illness) will fall under the state-mandated five excused absences within a three-month period.
18-year-old Hailey Hardcastle, along with three friends, lobbied for the new mental health bill after Hardcastle realized how hard it was to get teachers to take her absences seriously if she had to say, miss a day to attend a therapy session.
“I have three younger sisters who are in middle school right now… and part of the reason I do this is so high school and beyond will be even easier for them than it was for me,” Hardcastle told NPR.
Hardcastle’s efforts paid off and the new mental health ruling will go into effect this coming school year.
This new law is incredibly urgent as suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Oregonians aged 15 to 34, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
“We’re not talking about ‘I just don’t feel like going to school.’ We’re talking about real disorders, real things that have real impacts,” Chris Bouneff, the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Oregon, told NPR. “It’s hard to address them systematically if they have to stay hidden because of stigma and prejudice and shame.”
Currently, students might lie about mental health problems in order to skip school, which adds to the stigma and shame surrounding mental illness. Bouneff hopes the new law will bring mental health out of the dark, which he in turn hopes will also help students seek help and treatment.
“You would have circumstances where students have a mental health disorder that impacts their ability to attend school at a given day but they would have to hide the reasons that generated their absences and you don’t do that for any other health care condition,” Bouneff said.
This news comes after Florida just announced its own progressive mental health mandate. All public middle and high schools in Florida are now required to provide five hours a year of mental health education — with the goal being that education and awareness will push more students towards mental health treatment. Last year, New York and Vermont rolled out similar plans.
Hopefully, the rest of the country takes suit and treats mental wellness with the same seriousness that we currently treat physical wellness.
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