Mental health has been a growing concern for people of all ages, especially among school children who face a wide range of academic and social pressures. In recognition of this, the state of Maryland mandated mental health days for students, giving them an opportunity to take a break and address their emotional wellbeing.
Maryland’s legislation took effect during this 2022-2023 school year. The law requires schools to provide up to five mental health days per academic year – no doctor’s note required – for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. This means that students are able to take time off from school to prioritize their mental health, just as they would for physical illness. Mental health is health.
The move by Maryland to prioritize mental health is supported by a growing body of research. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 1 in 6 children in the U.S. experience a mental health disorder. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24.
Providing mental health days can help to address these alarming statistics by promoting emotional wellness and reducing stress among students. Taking a break from school can provide students with the opportunity to rest and recharge, reducing the risk of burnout and improving academic performance in the long term.
Moreover, the move by Maryland has garnered significant attention from other states, with some considering similar legislation. This reflects a growing trend across the country to prioritize mental health and wellbeing, especially in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Another significant benefit of providing mental health days to students is the opportunity to break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Many students may feel ashamed or embarrassed to discuss their emotional struggles or refrain from seeking help due to the social stigma attached to mental illness.
By normalizing the idea of taking time off from school to prioritize mental health, Maryland’s new law sends a message that it is okay to take care of oneself emotionally, just as it is acceptable to take care of oneself physically. This, in turn, may encourage students to be more open about their struggles and more willing to seek help when needed, reducing the impact of stigma and improving overall mental health outcomes.
It is crucial to emphasize that mental health is just as important as physical health and that seeking help for mental health issues is a sign of strength rather than weakness. The state’s move to provide mental health days for students is a significant step in promoting this message and reducing the stigma around mental illness.
Early indications suggest that the reception to student mental health days has been positive, with many students taking advantage of the opportunity to prioritize their emotional wellbeing. According to a survey by the Baltimore Sun, several school districts in Maryland reported that hundreds of students had taken mental health days within the first month of the school year. In some districts, the number of mental health days taken was higher than the number of sick days used by students during the same period.
The data suggest that students are recognizing the importance of caring for their mental health and are taking advantage of the new opportunities provided to them. It is encouraging to see that students are utilizing these days and taking proactive steps to manage their emotional health. There is a pressing need to prioritize mental health care for our young people. As other states consider similar measures, we hope to see mental health and wellbeing become a more prominent topic in education and society at large.