Schools Should Accommodate Mental Health

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Published September 4, 2019
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The Montclarion
With the stress and anxiety that comes with being a student, teens in Oregon started a movement to require schools to allow them to take days off to take care of their mental health. Photo courtesy of Agroffman via Flickr

Students in Oregon made history in July when they led a successful movement to create “mental health days.” The students had advocated for mental health and behavioral care to be included as approved reasons to take excused medical absences from school.

As a result of their activism, the state government passed a groundbreaking bill approving the students’ demands. I believe every state should follow Oregon’s lead.

Mental illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, are just as based in medical science as illnesses such as cancer or diabetes.

Like with cancer or diabetes, mental illnesses can and do kill victims who are not able to receive proper treatment. Still, many schools do not take the mental health needs of students seriously enough.

According to research by Child Mind Institute, more than 17 million children in the U.S. have or have had a psychiatric disorder, which is more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes or AIDs combined.

Despite how common this issue is, the ratio of school psychologists to students is one to 1,482. Every year, 4,600 students die from suicide, 90% of which have a psychiatric condition.

Suicide is the worst outcome for students fighting mental illness, but even those who evade it face other challenges.

As a student diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (A.S.D.) and anxiety, I can attest to how unequal the playing field is for those of us who have to balance our mental health with our academics.

Even with accommodations from the disability resource center and a strong support system of friends, family and doctors who understand my needs, I have struggled every semester at college due to my mental health.

At worst, I’ve found myself having trouble breathing at meals due to intense anxiety at the thought of my class assignments piling up while I was “wasting time eating.” At best, I have had to sacrifice opportunities to earn money or pursue my own interests in order to conserve my mental energy for schoolwork.

Most people can likely relate to how nailing a professional interview requires far more energy than having a simple conversation with friends. When someone has a communicative disability such as A.S.D., every conversation they have, no matter how casual the setting, is like nailing a professional interview.

Anxiety puts one in an irrational state of preparing for an emergency, even when there is no clear reason to expect one. These are conditions that are exhausting to live with every day, and the high stakes of doing well in college both academically and socially, directly contradict the structure, control and time for self care that individuals with A.S.D. and anxiety often need to remain mentally healthy.

Being able to take a day off every now and then will not make my conditions go away, but there are classes I would not have had to drop and projects I would have been able to put more effort into if I could have easily taken a day to deal with my mental health when it was at its worst.

There are panic attacks I would not have had and deadlines I would not have missed if I did not have to choose between appearing professional and feeling healthy.

I am not alone. For the millions of students living with conditions such as A.D.H.D., depression, anxiety, A.S.D., bipolar disorder, etc., I believe it is time schools everywhere prioritize the treatment of mental illness.

Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255

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