New mental health days bring about both relief and stress

Students+spoke+at+a+school+board+meeting+to+address+their+mental+health+concerns+with+the+district.+

Sachin Fong

Students spoke at a school board meeting to address their mental health concerns with the district.

Starting this new year, 2022, Illinois will allow five excused absences from school for students to take for their mental health per year. This bill comes after the recent uprising in advocating for student’s mental health from both concerned students and parents.

Transitioning back from a very different school year of remote learning and trying to get back into the flow of a “normal” school year, many students have had trouble adjusting to the old schedule, admitting that the transition has been quite taxing on them mentally. In response to the state releasing this bill, students agree that, in theory, these mental days are a good idea; however, there are aspects that still need workshopping. Junior, Sarah Chow, spoke on the issue, noting how she “wasn’t aware that these days even existed” and citing the lack of communication related to mental health resources available for Neuqua Valley students. This has been a recent critique for the school’s support for students mentally.

The purpose of these days is supposed to allow for students who are struggling with conflicts at home or in their own personal lives to not have the stresses of school add onto that; yet, there is the possibility that missing school will cause even more stress. Hannah Kestenberg, a student taking multiple AP classes points out, “if you take mental health days, then you are also missing school, so then you would have to make up more when you come back.”

This pokes a hole in the idea of mental health days, where students who are taking numerous challenging classes are advised by their teachers to not miss any days as they will fall behind. This causes even more stress and even defeats the purpose for these excused absences meant to relieve the pressure of school. In addition, most teachers have to follow a strict curriculum to ensure students get all the material needed covered for that class, which makes it especially harder for them to understand the material well and catch up if a day is missed. This was also demonstrated during the first semester, when Principal Dr. Lance Fuhrer put out a suggestion for teachers to not assign any major projects, tests or quizzes the week prior to finals, but students complained that none of the teachers adhered to that message.

Though there are some apparent issues needing to be addressed and improved on, students do acknowledge the effort that Neuqua Valley has put towards advocating and supporting student’s mental health. Resources such as therapy dogs and counselors to talk to help to create a safe and open environment through the teachers reaching out. For example, Shandana Malik, an appreciative student of Mrs. Smart’s efforts, said “she does weekly check-ins… to talk about your mental health,” showing how compassionate, small efforts by teachers can go a long way in advocating and refining the mental health support system in schools.

The latest effort to support students has been created through the implementation of mental health days, which albeit thoughtful , have sparked many interesting conversations that raise awareness about these issues and open the floor to different ideas on how to grow and develop. Creating a safe space for communication between students and teachers through compassion and empathy for one another will easily allow for better working support systems and in turn, make Neuqua Valley a place focused on personal growth and development. Though the system is most definitely not perfect, if schools and the community are able to continue these conversations and take action, we are one step closer to a more positive, safe and healthy environment.