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In the last two years, eight states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and Virginia) have passed legislation allowing for children to have days off school for mental health needs. Some places have even gone as far as declaring a state of emergency when it comes to pediatric mental health.

Some changes need to be made to help the mental health of the next generation. One of the impressive aspects of these bills and the idea of a mental health day is that they were started by the students advocating for what they needed.

What is a Mental Health Day?

Faced with high stress levels among adolescents and a mental health crisis that includes worsening suicide rates, some states are now allowing students to declare a mental health day. First, calling it what it is will reduce the stigma that accompanies mental health.

A mental health day is a day off from school to focus on wellness and help relieve stress, all in hopes of curbing burnout and creating a space for mental health maintenance. While one day off will not completely cure feelings of being overwhelmed or bordering on burnout, a mental health day can provide students with a much-needed (and well-deserved) break.

If a child seems to be avoiding something uncomfortable at school, then perhaps a conversation is needed to discuss what’s going on. Is the avoidance because of academic work being too challenging? Or is your child being hurt in some way? Taking time to open the door for exploring pent-up anxiety or stress can help a child learn to evaluate how to spend their day off.

Why Is a Mental Health Day a Good Idea?

A mental health day can help students feel centered, refreshed, or re-energized, as well as maintain a healthy school-life balance. It can help manage academic burnout, manage stress and anxiety, and encourage kids to learn how to take care of their psychological well-being. All these benefits are vital to maintaining a student’s overall health and ability to engage in schoolwork and extra-curricular activities in the best way for the long term.

The academic demands students face impact their quality of sleep, cognitive functioning, and ability to manage stress. Students need to learn how to take care of themselves now, so they can establish healthy habits, skills, and boundaries that they will need lifelong. Realizing when you need and how to spend a mental health day is a great start.

What Are the Signs Your Child Needs a Mental Health Day?

Children all have different ways of managing and coping with stress. Some of the red flags that your child needs to take a break are:

  • Changes in mood: Your child becomes irritable or angry more easily. They are overwhelmed, stressed, anxious, or depressed.
  • Personality changes: For example, your child is typically very social but has suddenly changed to being more reserved.
  • Physical changes: Headaches, stomachaches, sleeping more or sleeping less, or appetite changes are common signals.
  • Interpersonal issues: Dealing with relationship changes among friends or challenges within the family at home.

To Sum Up

Remember this is a day to rest, recharge, and take a break. It is a day to rest just like if you were physically ill (it’s the same concept).

  • Do’s: Rest, eat well, exercise, get outdoors, go to therapy, practice self-care
  • Don’ts: Sleep all day, binge watch TV or play video games all day, enable school avoidance or anxiety, or reward missing school to go on a shopping spree or lunching with friends.

Our jobs as parents are to prepare our children for the world beyond our homes and classrooms. It’s vital that we start to create a culture that encourages taking care of our mental health by saying “yes” to breaks and self-care and listening when our children advocate for themselves and say, “I need a mental health day.”

About the Authors: Angela Koreth, MS, LPC-S, and Elysée Virginia Miller Caballaro, LPC, are therapists at the Menninger Outpatient Clinic in Bellaire, a suburb of Houston. Koreth serves as program director of the Partial Hospital and Intensive Outpatient Programs who speaks frequently to groups of parents and treats families. Miller enjoys working with families with students of all ages and coaching teens who need more help with stress management.

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