We’ve all thrown around the concept of mental health days since, well, forever. Usually in jest because it’s not like you can just stop the world from turning to take care of yourself, right? Wrong. Feeding into that suffering and burnout martyrdom bullshit serves no one. Not to mention, it’s setting a pretty awful example for your littles. Refreshingly enough, some people — and employers — are recognizing that mental health is a very real thing. And just like we need sick days for our physical health, we need mental health days to relax, refocus, and get our self-care on.
During the past 18 months, mental health days have ceased to be just a trending topic and became an actual workplace practice. But, man. Can you imagine if we started prioritizing self-care and mental health from the beginning? I mean the very beginning. Our elementary students are practicing mindfulness in their classrooms, but then it tapers off. What are we teaching our teens to do that encourages them to keep their mental health front and center?
There is no doubt that the stresses and pressures our teens face today are tenfold compared to what we faced back in the day. Expectations are higher, study sessions are more intense–the pressure is on. And that can be incredibly overwhelming. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets too heavy to wade through. According to the CDC, there has been a 51% increase in suicide attempts in adolescent girls (aged 12-17) during the pandemic. That’s an absolutely tragic and unacceptable stat. Our kids are more than just these numbers. We need to support them however we can and get them the help and resources they need. Fortunately, many of them didn’t wait for the adults in their lives to start making the change they so desperately need.
Everyone Needs Mental Health Days — Including Adolescents
Everyone has mental health. Whether you’re an adult or an adolescent. And the sooner we learn about how to care for our mental health and destigmatize the concept, the better off everyone will be. Fortunately for everyone, this new generation gets it. And they’re not waiting until they hit adulthood to start advocating for change.
According to an article in the New York Times, “So far, 8 states have passed bills supporting absence from school for mental health reasons.” The best part about it? Many of the biggest advocates for these bills were the students themselves. Can I get a hell yeah? Being self-aware enough to know you need some time to step away is such an important lesson to learn. I mean as an adult, it’s hard to ask for what you need, but as a teenager? Yeah, I was definitely not advocating for myself.
As a parent, playing a supporting role in your child’s mental health and self-care is important. While you should be supporting their autonomy to feel how they feel, there is a difference between using mental health days as part of their overall self-care goals as opposed to using them as a temporary fix for underlying problems.
Making Self-Care A Reality, Not Just A Buzz Word
It’s so much easier said than done. Especially when there is a perception that adolescents need to “toughen up” because the real world is so much worse. News flash: our teens are real people, living in the real world. Making mental health days part of their regularly scheduled routine is only one piece of the bigger picture of self-care. Maybe students don’t need to use a full mental health day but struggle to get through a day already in progress. In situations like this, it’s important that their school has a way to support them.
One way a school in Colorado is supporting its students is with “wellness rooms.” Shauna Worthington, an elementary school principal explains, “A wellness room is a place in the school where students can go to regroup and calm down after stressing out in class.” I don’t know about you, but even as an adult, this would be an excellent option. Because, y’all, how many times have you felt like you’re about to blow a gasket, and instead of processing your feelings, bottle it up until you get home. These are some of those habits we really should not be passing on to our kids.
Let’s support these next generations by learning from our mistakes when it comes to mental health. Repeat after me: Burnout is not a badge of honor. Being too busy to take care of yourself doesn’t earn you a gold star.
Maintaining healthy boundaries and supportive friendships as part of self-care are things that can help support good mental health.
Our teens are watching what we’re doing and carrying forward things that work while leaving the rest behind. Yes, stigmatizing mental health is one of the latter. Self-care is not selfish. And while I say this to myself a million times as an adult, from a young age, the opposite was hammered into my soul. Okay, that might be a little dramatic, but you know what I mean. I can only imagine how differently somethings might have turned out if I had taken care of my mental health from the beginning instead of playing catch-up later on.