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Is mental health an excuse to miss school?

As a kid, I remember the days when my mom and I would play hooky. As long as my grades were good and my responsibilities were taken care of, once in a while I would get to skip school. My mom would pull me out for the day and we'd go do something fun together–just the two of us.

We work with a lot of adolescents and young adults in our clinic (probably because we're physically close to several high schools and universities... but it could just be our awesome, youth-friendly therapists, too ;) ) Isn't it cool that this generation is seeking increased support and is willing to talk about their mental health? Yay! We love to see stigmas being broken.

But with the mental health needs in our youth, we often get asked by parents and the young people themselves this question:

Is it okay to skip school due to anxiety or feeling stressed?

While attending university, I remember a friend who just could not get up off the couch to go to class. At the time, I did not know she was struggling with depression. I just thought she was lazy. I now know how judgement and lacking compassion I was, and am grateful to have learned from my experience. I sometimes have still found myself asking, why couldn't she just get up and go to class?

Is it ever okay to stop going to school because we're feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed?

School can be overwhelming. The pressures of tests, performance, social interactions, and learning new concepts can feel all but daunting. Yet, there are fantastic ways to challenge our brains, make friends, challenge ourselves, and grow all within the school environment. There's a lot going on.

I recently heard a parent say to their child, "You shouldn't take a mental health day and skip school because in the real work you can't skip work for mental health. You only take a day off if you're sick, because if you take time off for anything else you don't get paid, and if you skip work a lot you may get fired. We shouldn't teach kids to skip school."

Clearly, this parent must have either loved high school or forgot just how crummy it can sometimes be. School is hard and it is a different experience for each person. Some of the crummy things people deal with in school simply do not exist in the work force. Trying to tell kids to just "suck it up" and "move on" invalidates their experiences. It means we'll see more teen suicides and school shootings, all the while just scratching our heads wondering how on earth they happened.

According to a new study by Verywell Mind and Parents, 60% of parents of children ages 8 to 17 say the pandemic has at least somewhat affected their child’s mental health. Additionally, over a third of parents observed mood and behavior changes in their children, with 37% noticing their child having a harder time socializing.

12 states have already implemented mental health days in their schools. (Utah has since May of 2021!) 77% of parents who have let their child take a mental health day on their own, feel the day had a positive impact. Instead of a typical school day, children spent the day talking about their feelings, spending time in nature or just relaxing.

Many companies have gone away from specific "sick days" or "vacation days" and now give combined PTO (Paid Time Off) which can be used at the employee's discretion–for illness, mental health days, vacations, etc. So, "in the real world" there are times when you can take a break when it's needed.

School is hard and unforgiving. Sometimes you just need a break to get on top of your own thoughts. If you or your child feel like taking a day off will help, then why not? Just make sure they can catch up on any work missed. No one should be taking time off from school just to avoid having to sit through a difficult test or to hand in an assignment.

The idea is to take a day off, once in a while, to clear your head and to feel good. Taking a day off shouldn't make your situations work by making you miss out on work or fall behind in school.

Students who deal with anxiety, stress, or depression shouldn't skip school consistently. If you or your young person always feels like school is overwhelming or they just can't go, it may be time to talk to friends, parents, and support services. You might want to talk to the school, too, if this is a common thing in yours or your child's life.

If your teen or young adult is struggling with school refusal, phobia, anxiety or any mental health issues that you have exhausted your local resources with trying to find help, contact us today to find out more about the benefits of our therapeutic services to help get them back on track.


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