In the New York City school system, which has more than 1 million students, a day off for mental or behavioral health reasons “would be treated like any other sick day,” Nathaniel Styer, a New York City Department of Education spokesman, said.
The phrase “mental health day” might make some kids and parents uncomfortable. With that in mind, the school board in Montgomery County, Md., decided that it will excuse absences taken for “student illness and well-being,” starting in the new school year.
“We didn’t want to call it a mental health day, because we know there is still stigma around that,” Karla Silvestre, the school board vice president, told Education Week in June.
Schools are also experimenting with other methods beyond mental health days to help students cope with their daily stressors. The Jordan School District in South Jordan, Utah, is using “wellness rooms,” where students can decompress for 10 minutes if they are feeling overwhelmed. And some schools in Colorado have created “oasis rooms,” a student lounge staffed with peer counselors and other resources.
Melanie Zhou, 19, who attended high school in Highlands Ranch, Colo., worked alongside other students to create the oasis rooms after a friend died by suicide.
“When my friend passed away, I had no idea how to grieve properly,” she said.
Much like Ben, Melanie felt that academics were the priority at her school, not self-care. And at home, “mental heath was not talked about very clearly or openly,” she added.
One advantage of declaring a “mental health day” and recognizing its importance at the state level is that — ideally — using this kind of language can help families start to have more open conversations about subjects related to mental health, and potentially reduce some of the stigma associated with self-care, Ms. Rothman said.