Missing school for mental health: The pros and cons

Mila Brandson and Kelly Wang

Following the enactment of an Illinois bill granting students mental health days, students have access to five mental health days each school year. Since January, Fremd students have had the opportunity to use these days as they see fit. However, students have shown a variety of perspectives on how best to apply the new accommodations to their daily life.

According to Fremd junior Maya Longo, mental health days can be an essential step in reducing student stress when feeling overwhelmed by academics or one’s social life.

“It gives you a break from the stresses of school since our teachers pile on a lot of assignments and really insane due dates that we have to follow up with,” Longo said. 

On top of coursework, Longo adds that changing friendships can also strain students’ well-being.

As of Mar. 10, 553 Fremd students have taken at least one mental health day. Seniors have used them the most so far, with over 240 Seniors having used at least one mental health day this semester. 

With the increasing number of students taking advantage of mental health day accommodations, the Fremd faculty seems to express a similarly positive view for the increased awareness and accommodating students’ mental health.

Dean of Students and world language teacher Scott Newmark expresses his enthusiasm toward the new bill. Because many Fremd students take advantage of the Harper Promise scholarship, which includes an absence limit for each school year, mental health days do not adversely impact student eligibility. Similarly, Fremd seniors who complete the criteria used to excuse them from second-semester finals can use mental health days without being unfavorably impacted. 

“I think it’s a fantastic way for students to feel like there’s a way that you don’t have to call in sick,” Newmark said. “There’s something built-in for you that you know you can use.”

After taking their second mental health day of the year, students will be contacted by a Fremd counselor to assure that they are receiving adequate care. In addition to the students’ mental health support, teachers can also serve as confidants on top of academic guidance.

AP Psychology teacher Heather Schroeder encourages students to seek out their teachers, who can provide students helpful resources to catch up on schoolwork.

“If you need time to regroup throughout your time at school, go for it,” Schroeder said. “If it impedes a couple of days, make sure you’re getting the help you need.”

Although some see the days as a way to relax, some students expect to gain more stress due to missed class time. When a student takes a mental health day, expectations are teachers will allow students to make up missing work. Yet, this can still result in more assignments students must complete on their own time. 

Freshman Mithali Athwale explains that she has not experienced the need to use a mental health day, but would prefer to avoid added stress.

“I think I’d be losing a lot of material that I need to learn in school,” Athwale said. 

Similarly, Longo explained the challenge of returning to a stressful environment after a needed break. 

“I think the worst part about returning to school is knowing that I got a break from everything, but it never went away,” Longo said.

Getting back into the swing of things at school is a challenge that some students have experienced after taking a mental health day. Therefore, working and openly communicating with teachers to catch up is vital for students to get back on track. 

Fremd Student Services Department Chair and counselor Antonnette Minniti emphasizes that being transparent with teachers is integral to avoiding miscommunication about classwork. 

“Some may feel more comfortable than others talking to their teachers, saying, ‘This is why I took the day,'” Minniti said. “But I’m sure we’re going to have more discussions around that now.”

Mental health days are anticipated to continue serving as an aspect of future Fremd Vikings academic lives. There are various methods for students to get help for mental health, from talking to a professional to participating in physical exercise, which can be utilized during a student’s day off. Continued implementation of mental health days is predicted to encourage greater awareness about student mental health. 

Seeing how Fremd students have benefited from taking mental health days, Minniti remains optimistic about the future usage of the legislation. 

“There are so many elements to [mental health], and I feel like it’s brought it to the forefront,” Minniti said. “I think mental health days will just keep increasing that awareness and remove the stigma a little bit. That’s my hope.”