October 15, 2019
by Kimberly Lucey
In need of a mental health day? Students in New York state may be closer to getting theirs covered. A state senator has introduced legislation to make mental health days excused absences, just like a sick day.
State Senator Brad Hoylman is bringing up the bill. He says he was spurred to act after seeing the numbers. “According to a recent study, the number of children and teenagers treated in America’s emergency rooms for suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts nearly doubled between 2007 and 2015", says Senator Hoylman. "Here in New York, nearly 4,500 kids made a visit to emergency departments for self-harm in 2016. We need to recognize suicide and self-harm among young New Yorkers as the major public health crisis that it is, demolish the stigma around mental health care, and do everything within our power to help kids who are struggling to seek treatment"
According to a press release from Hoylman's office, current New York law requires schools to come up with their own attendance policies and determine which absences will be considered excused and unexcused. This proposal would establish mental or behavioral health issues as permitted reasons for missing school, and make the change across the board for the entire state. They say the wording would be similar to existing state law excusing absences for religious observances and education.
New York isn't the only state considering such a matter. Related laws are already on the books in Oregon, Utah, and Minnesota. Minnesota's law was enacted back in 2009, granting permission for a child's physical or mental health condition to prevent attendance at school. The student must have a note from a physician, or licensed mental health professional.
Doctors say considering a mental health issue as a valid reason for a student's absence is important, but, so is having the proper resources available at the school itself. Dr. John Garruto, President of the New York Association of School Psychologists, says: "Just as schools have nurses to address the physical health needs of students, they need to have the appropriate school-employed mental health professionals, such as school psychologists, to meet the social and emotional needs of students to prevent excessive absences due to these issues.”
The New York legislature is scheduled to meet again in January of 2020. Advocates say they hope by introducing the mental health day bill now, they can work on drumming up support before lawmakers return to Albany for the New Year. If passed, the measure would be implemented the following July after it's signed into law.
About the Author
Kim Lucey is a freelance journalist with more than a decade of experience in the field. Her career has included coverage of big breaking news events like the Sandy Hook school shooting, lockdown in Watertown, MA following the Boston marathon bombings, and Superstorm Sandy. Her in-depth reports have garnered awards, including a focus on treating mental health issues in children. Currently, she is a reporter at a television station covering the news across the Greater Boston Area with an appreciation for fact-finding and storytelling. Follow Kim on Facebook and Twitter.