DES MOINES, Iowa — Sick days are nothing new for school-aged students but excused absences for mental health are.
Last week, the governor of Oregon signed a law allowing students to miss school because of mental health purposes. Utah is the only state with similar legislation in place but mental health advocates question if Iowa isn’t too far behind.
“I’ve always said the worst phrase ever invented is ‘its all in your head’ it implies it’s not a real thing,” says Peggy Huppert, executive director of NAMI Iowa.
Huppert stresses mental health is health and should be treated like any other physical sickness, urging educators and parents to recognize the symptoms.
“Younger kids don’t understand whats going on with them. They won’t say I have anxiety or feel depressed. They will say I have a stomach ache. I just want to sleep. I feel like doing anything, she says” She adds factors like school students, bullying and the overwhelming presence of social media is leading to more children suffering for mental disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of children diagnosed with depression and anxiety increases every year. In Iowa, suicide rounds out the top three causes of death in young people.
Kristina Storm, a mother of six, from Ankeny says she pays close attention to her kids’ activities and the toll it takes on their mental health. Storm says she has no problem letting her kids stay home from school or practice if something seems off.
“So many people get normally days at work why wouldn’t you think that your kid needs a personal day too? I am not saying it should be a day off from taking a test just because you are not prepared,” she says.
What does a mental health day look like? Storm says it varies depending on the child.
“Sometimes it’s just a stay at home and binge watch TV and eat junk food. Sometimes it’s just a day out of the house with just me,” she laughs. “After I just see a completely refreshed and ready to go kid.”
Mental health advocates believe Oregon’s recently passed law should give Iowa better hope for mental health awareness. At the beginning of July, a state-wide child mental health system went into effect which helps children and families find the care they need.
“Up until now, we haven’t had a child mental health system. There was money appropriated this last session for area education agencies to do mental education with schools,” says Huppert. “So we are taking steps forward.”
Huppert adds the idea of mental health sick days isn’t a cure-all solution but a step in the right direction to continuing talking about mental health.