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Some schools are making strides in addressing youth mental health as issues like anxiety and depression become a growing issue among children and teens.
About one in five teenagers in the United States have experienced a major depressive episode, or persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness, at some point, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hundreds of schools nationwide are now allowing students to take "mental health days" during the year. According to the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit specializing in kids' mental health, a mental health day is a day off from school to rest and recharge.
Students are able to take a number of excused absences from school — varying among states and their respective laws — due to mental or behavioral problems, similar to a sick day.
There are currently 12 states where students are legally allowed to take mental health days: Washington, California, Illinois, Maine, Virginia, Colorado, Oregon, Connecticut, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Kentucky. Additionally, there are five states where bills for mental health days have been proposed, including Florida, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
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Lori Riddle, a 21-year-old college student, is one of several then-high schoolers who testified before Oregon's state legislature in support of the bill to allow excused absences for mental health.
"I was going through my own mental health struggles and I knew that testifying for mental health days and being vulnerable was opening myself and my struggles to criticism," Riddle told TODAY Parents. "I think it's important to take care of yourself."
"When it comes to mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety, those are also medical conditions that can interfere with anyone's ability to function at work and at school," Dr. Christine Crawford, associate medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the outlet. "The whole purpose of mental health days is to recognize and to acknowledge the fact that these symptoms from these mental health related conditions can interfere with a young person's ability to be fully present in school."
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The Child Mind Institute notes that mental health days are not intended for students to avoid classes or assignments. These absences can also open doors for schools to assist struggling students with proper mental health care.
For example, officials from Chicago Public Schools told Chalkbeat that, based on state laws, if a student takes consecutive mental health days the school can decide to refer the student to "appropriate support personnel" like a counselor or psychologist.
"I don't know many people who say their mental health is fixed because they took a mental health day," Meghan Cuddy, sophomore at Jones College Prep High School in Chicago, told the outlet. "So while I think they could be good, I think we need to have serious intervention to help kids with their mental health because it's a really big problem; it's an epidemic."