Mental health days need to be recognized and acknowledged as separate from sick days

There’s no doubt about it; the constant schoolwork, peer pressure, and activities of a student’s life can be stressful. When feeling overwhelmed, it could be beneficial for a student to take a break from the demands of everyday life and give themselves time to rest and de-stress.

“It is extremely important that we take care of ourselves. Our body and mind need breaks. Being a high school student-athlete, every day is go, go, go constantly. I eventually just get so tired and mentally drained where I won’t even contact any of my friends because I am so worn out that I have no motivation to do the little things,” sophomore Rylee Longbottom said.

Policies are in place at McNick to assist students with their mental health during the school day. Students can leave class with a teacher’s approval and see their counselor if they are feeling overwhelmed.

“[When a student goes to the counselor], the way we help them depends on the student and their mental needs at the time,” Counseling department chair Alaina Way said. “Sometimes we take five minutes to just breathe together. At other times, when they’re feeling overloaded with work, we’ll sit down together and make a list.”

Currently, the McNicholas Handbook states that personal illness is a valid excuse to be absent from school. The term “personal illness” could refer to both physical or mental health.

“McNick relies on parents to verify whether students are ill. There can be physical illness and there can be illness that manifests itself through mental well-being,” Principal David Mueller said. “As long as a parent would call in to verify that the student should stay home because of illness, we wouldn’t even have to ask if it were mental or physical, it’s just illness… that would be counted as an excused absence.”

When a student takes a sick day, they are not allowed to participate in sports or extracurricular activities with a few rare exceptions.

“It goes without saying that if you’re not well enough to be here for school, you’re not well enough to be here for the activities,” Mueller said.

However, skipping a practice, rehearsal, or other activity may actually be more stressful to students and therefore undermine the process of taking a mental health day to cope with anxiety or other overwhelming feelings.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, but that doesn’t mean that they should be dealt with in the same way. A physical illness will typically show clear symptoms and can be eradicated through resting and taking certain medications. However, mental health is not so clear-cut, and every person may find different ways to keep their mind healthy.

“I try to make myself as comfortable as possible when stressed,” senior Shannon Whitely said. “This often means listening to my favorite music, wearing fuzzy clothes, drinking water, or replaying my favorite comfort media.”

On the other hand, freshman Alex Dalton said that he preferred playing basketball, football, or guitar when overwhelmed.

If stressed students find relaxation in their extracurriculars, then barring them from doing these things can be counterproductive to the purpose of taking a mental health day in the first place.

In a recent Milestone survey, 84% of students said that they have considered staying home from school for mental health purposes but chose not to because of schoolwork, clubs, or sports. Deciding whether or not to take a day off should not be another thing that students have to stress about. Missed schoolwork can be made up, and if the State of Ohio policy allowed students to participate in extracurriculars even when they took a mental health day, this could help them to set realistic expectations for themselves and be less hesitant to take a break when they need one.

It could be argued that if mental health days are separated from physical illnesses and truly instituted at McNicholas, students could call in to take the day off out of pure laziness. However, a system has been set up to make sure that no one is taking so many sick days that they fall behind in their academics. If a student calls in sick for more than four days a quarter or more than ten days a school year, the McNicholas administration will set up a meeting with the parents of the student to discuss the absences. This system would also work if mental health days were explicitly included as an excusable absence.

Student success should be a top priority at every high school; but to be successful, each student needs to be happy and healthy. By acknowledging that mental health days don’t have to be limited to spending time inside the house and can instead include extracurricular activities, a step will be taken in the right direction to give students a happier and healthier life.

In a recent Milestone survey about mental health days, 50% of students stated that they have faked a physical illness in order to stay home from school for mental health purposes. It’s important that mental health days are spoken about and openly accepted as excusable absences. “School can be stressful and some people may benefit from having time to relax,” freshman Tyler Munzel said.

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