By taking time to cultivate a students wellness, their academic and mental success will begin to grow.
By taking time to cultivate a student’s wellness, their academic and mental success will begin to grow.
Julia Allie

Mental health days offer a fresh start

School is stressful for anyone. In a world where the quality of mental wellness in teens is rapidly declining combined with the steady recovery from online school and its isolation, it can be a lot to deal with. On top of that, there’s SATs, ACTs, college applications, finals, grades, extracurriculars, and, don’t forget, school rules that are constantly changing.

Over two years ago, on Jan. 1, 2022, the state of Illinois implemented a law amending K-12 school attendance policies to allow students to take up to five excused mental health days. Although this was a widely discussed topic upon the law’s release, the usage of mental health days was quickly forgotten. This left students at York stressed as ever, considering the guidance that failed to follow up on this law. Yet, there are still ways for students to take the time they need to feel their best. Megan Ellison, yoga teacher and softball coach at York, often covers the topic of mental health within her classes.

“I believe students should be utilizing mental health days,” Ellison said. “They should be used on days where students can maximize their time to decompress and take time away from their usual responsibilities to recharge their mental health.”

Even though the spare time to indulge in your passions, hobbies, or to simply just unwind can be useful, there are still some precautions to consider when taking time off for yourself.

“Taking a mental health day on the day of a big test or project should be discouraged,” Ellison said. “It could cause more stress and anxiety trying to schedule time to make it up, in the end missing class time or taking time out of your day that would be otherwise utilized. If mental health days are being used properly, positive mental and self care can also have a positive affect on your physical health.”

In order to fully utilize a mental health day, there are still certain tactics to know in order to make the most out of your newfound time. Mental health days can have more of a negative impact than positive if used neglectfully.

“The relationship between our mental and emotional health affects our physical health, and vice versa,” Ellison said. “Physical activity releases dopamine and endorphins into your body and brain that makes us feel happy. Socialize, exercise, eat healthy, or find an activity that brings you happiness, since laying around in bed or on the couch scrolling on your phone with no goals, movement, or reflection can end up having negative consequences on your mental health.”

Moving forward, it’s not only important to stay mindful of personal wellbeing, but also how to create a space that allows others to do the same.

“I still believe that there is a stigma around mental health, and the only way to break that is by educating people on the importance of mental health,” Ellison said. “This can be done in classrooms, campaigns, flyers, educating others or creating support groups within the school community.”

Deirdre Devlin, social worker here at York, is no stranger to the impact mental health can have on one’s life.

“As a school social worker, I am of the belief that our mental health should be taken just as seriously as our physical health, and sometimes a mental health day is just what a student needs to recharge and refresh,” Devlin said. “Students having an awareness that a mental health day is an option to them hopefully sends a message that it’s ok to recognize when we might be struggling, and it’s ok and encouraged to name that.”

Nothing is more important in this process than being able to reflect on your personal thoughts and feelings in that moment. Taking a day off can always be great, but keeping your mind open to other solutions can buseful if you’re still feeling down or stressed.

“My concern with mental health days are when they are used to avoid something stressful or difficult, as avoidance is not a great solution to problems and only delays or tends to make a problem worse,” Devlin said. “If a student is struggling with their mental health for an extended period of time, we should be brainstorming what other supports might be helpful for that student. York Student Services and Administration can then help connect students and families with additional outside support as well if needed.”

The usage of mental health days varies from person to person. For some, it may look like taking the time to catch up on late work, while for others it might involve lying in bed to catch up on some much needed rest. In the end, all that matters is the mindset used when taking time for yourself and the intentions set for that day. It might seem scary to take the time off in the moment, but it might save you a lot of stress in the future.

“Mental health days can be a good identifier for students who may be in need of additional support,” Devlin said. “It can be a good tool to utilize for the minor stressors and exhaustion that can come with being a teenager if used sparingly and for the purpose to recharge and reset.”

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