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Oregon Students Win Right to Take 'Mental Health Days'

Activist say they want to remove stigma
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 22, 2019 12:14 AM CDT
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Activists Sam Adamson, Lori Riddle, Hailey Hardcastle, and Derek Evans pose at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore.   (Jessica Adamson/Providence Health & Services via AP)

(Newser) – Oregon will allow students to take "mental health days" just as they would sick days, expanding the reasons for excused school absences to include mental or behavioral health under a new law that experts say is one of the first of its kind in the US. But don't call it coddling. The students behind the measure say it's meant to change the stigma around mental health in a state that has some of the United States' highest suicide rates. Mental health experts say it is one of the first state laws to explicitly instruct schools to treat mental health and physical health equally, and it comes at a time educators are increasingly considering the emotional health of students, the AP reports. Utah passed a similar law last year.

Oregon's bill, signed by Gov. Kate Brown last month, represents one of the few wins for youth activists from around the state who were unusually active at the Capitol this year. Along with expanded mental health services, they lobbied for legislation to strengthen gun control and lower the voting age, both of which failed. Haily Hardcastle, an 18-year-old from the Portland suburb of Sherwood who helped champion the mental health bill, says she and other student leaders were partly motivated by the national youth-led movement that followed last year's school shooting in Parkland, Fla. Hardcastle says she and fellow youth leaders drafted the measure to respond to a mental health crisis in schools and to "encourage kids to admit when they're struggling." Suicide is Oregon's second leading cause of death among those ages 10 to 34, according to data from the state Health Authority.

(Read more Oregon stories.)

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