Students in Oregon, USA, will soon be able to be excused from school for mental health reasons — just as they would for a physical ailment. The push for the legislation — which allows students five excused absences in a three-month period for mental health issues — was kickstarted last northern summer at a student camp organised by the Oregon Association of Student Councils. During a workshop, students discussed the importance of schools recognising mental health problems as a legitimate reason for school absence.
Speaking to Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB), Hailey Hardcastle, a high school student who helped form the legislation, said: “There’s not a single one of my peers that I know that hasn’t been affected by mental health.” Hardcastle — who has experienced panic attacks herself in the past — also hopes the legislation will help destigmatise mental illness. “I would love to see this law teach young people how to take care of themselves,” she said.
One in five people in the US struggle with some form of mental illness — with young people particularly susceptible. Also speaking to OPB, Robin Henderson, a psychologist who helped Hardcastle and other students push through the bill, said, “We know that that population of kids, especially between 15 and 24, that’s when mental illness really starts to foment. You add that to the stressors that are in a school environment, and the fact that this is where students are six, seven, eight hours a day, and you’re going to see higher than that 20% — you’re probably going to see more like 30% to 35%.”
With suicide the second leading cause for death among 15-to-34-year-olds in Oregon, it’s hoped the new law will start an urgent conversation around mental health. As Cheri Helt, an Oregon representative who carried the bill in the House of Representatives, told The Guardian: “Hopefully it creates a culture where it’s acceptable to say, ‘Hey I’m struggling and I’m having a tough time,’ and then people will say, ‘Hey what can I do to help you, are you alright?’”
ABOVE Hailey Hardcastle