The term “mental health day” is a relatively new one that has received a surge of recognition recently due to the response of a CEO in Ann Arbor, Michigan to his employee who asked for a couple of days off to tend to her mental health. What made this boss’s response so catalyzing was the fact that it was supportive rather than shaming or dismissive. Employers often view mental health issues as excuses to be lazy rather than serious illnesses. Employees must sometimes mask their depression as a physical ailment to be granted time for recovery. Unfortunately, CEOs aren’t the only skeptics of mental health days. Many parents perpetuate this stigma by assuming their children are “faking” illness to get out of school.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder. Adolescents share that statistic (to learn more about the seriousness of mental health problems in adolescents, read our article on Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Suicide in Youth here). Research shows that people are less productive and don’t perform as well when they are struggling to cope with a mental health problem, the same as any other illness. It should stand to reason that students will perform poorly in school when their mental health is in jeopardy, and compromised academic performance is the least a parent should worry about. Failure to address mental illness in time can have much more serious results, from drug abuse to suicide.
There are many benefits to children and adults alike taking mental health days. They can be used to rest and recuperate or to see a doctor and pursue treatment for a diagnosable mental illness. However, like taking Vitamin C to prevent a cold, there are steps parents can take to help prevent depression from escalating. Parents should have candid conversations with their children about mental health. This helps fight against the negative stigma about depression as well as educates children on symptoms and proper care. Encouraging healthy diet and exercise is also a proven deterrent to depression and anxiety. And finally, sometimes taking time off as a family sets a good example and shows children that they are not alone.
Everyone needs a day or two to recharge now and then, whether or not they suffer from depression. Between physical changes, social pressure, academics, extracurriculars, and more, adolescents experience, perhaps, even more stress than adults. Mental health days are a great first step in alleviating some of that stress. What’s more, they could help parents identify red flags in the future. Missed school won’t hinder a student’s success, but untreated depression very well could.