The stigma around mental illness, its treatment, and effects, may have just taken a hit thanks to student activists in Oregon. A group of students presented legislation that would enable Oregon schools to allow students excused absences or “mental health days” for mental or behavioral health issues. Oregon Governor, Kate Brown has signed the legislation into law.
But these aren’t the colloquial “mental health” days many of us are familiar with. Chris Bouneff, Executive Director of the National Mental Health Alliance, Oregon tells Parentology, “This is about real disorders that have real impacts on students and families. This is about health care and the recognition that mental health disorders are common and treatable health care conditions.”
The idea stemmed from a summer camp for the Oregon Association of Student Councils. Students were tasked with bringing forward relevant issues for them and their peers. Mental health was one of the most prominent. The students’ concern is reflective of a larger issue. Mental health is a concern for many people in the state of Oregon, as reflected by their increased suicide rate that’s 33 percent higher than the national average, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Bouneff thinks the fact that this legislation was driven by students makes it even more powerful, telling Parentology, “It is significant that students led the charge. These are brave students who see the impacts firsthand on themselves and on their fellow students. The burden on kids is much greater than ever.”
It’s not just students in Oregon. Suicide is a growing problem in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association, the suicide rate has grown 30 percent from 2000-2016, making it the tenth leading cause of death in the country. It’s also the second leading cause of death for kids ages 12-18 per the Parent Resource Program.
The hope is this legislation will lead to more of its kind. “Legislation like this normalizes something that’s very normal,” Bouneff says. “Mental health conditions are prevalent. Most of us have dealt with this in our families or have friends or relatives who have dealt with it. This is all around us.”
Other goals: reducing the stigma associated with mental illnesses and opening doors for kids to talk to their parents about what’s really troubling them. Hailey Hardcastle, one of the student advocates told CNN, “Then, the adults in their lives will know what’s actually going on, and hopefully, students who need help can get help in that way.”
Oregon’s newest legislation reflects a growing awareness of the severity and prevalence of mental illness, not only in the state, but throughout the country.