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A new law signed by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker will allow for five excused absences from school without the need for a doctor’s note, beginning January 2022. The law applies to all public school students, ages 6-17. The mental strain students are facing has increased amid the pandemic. They are concerned with getting sick and/or being a carrier who infects their families. Children are concerned with adapting to a new normal that has yet to be established.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study last fall that showed mental health-related emergency room visits among children increased by 24 percent for kids between the ages of 5 and 11, and 31 percent for ages 12 to 17 since around the start of the pandemic in April 2020, compared to 2019.
These statistics are on top of an already increasing amount of mental health diagnoses in children in recent years. One study published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics in 2018 found that rates of anxiety and depression were increasing in kids ages 6 to 17 from 5.4 percent in 2003 to 8.4 percent in 2011 to 2012. According to State Rep. Barbara Hernandez:
Many students feel stressed and have developed anxiety and depression because they’re not able to see teachers and friends and may have lower grades due to remote learning. This will allow them to get the help they need.
The new Illinois bill states that students who take more than two of the approved mental health days should be referred to appropriate support services. Students who take mental health days will also be given the opportunity to make up missed work. School districts across Illinois will have until the end of the year to come up with a specific plan to execute the new law ahead of its effective date in January.
The pandemic has placed unique strains on children, and as a new school year begins, child psychiatrists say they expect to see a surge of kids who need help. Younger school-age kids are more anxious about guardian separation in addition to becoming ill. Many teenagers are struggling with social and academic anxiety. While some are excited about in-person learning, they are also worried about socializing with their peers again and adapting to the challenge of in-person schooling.
Mental health problems can affect a student’s energy level, concentration, dependability, mental ability, and buoyancy, hindering performance. These issues can also have long-term consequences for students, affecting their future employment, relationships, earning potential, and overall health. The consequences of unaddressed mental health problems often manifest as behavior problems. As such, these issues can have dire repercussions on students and alter the learning environment overall.
The new law narrows the mental health gap that has long festered among students and faculty. Students will be allowed to take up to five excused mental health days giving them the chance for a mental break, rather than having a breakdown. Three or more absences require the school to recommend additional support for the children.
Many students are going through a lot mentally and emotionally, and they need support. The bill will help students, parents, and teachers understand what is going on in the students’ lives. The new law goes into effect in January 2022.
By Cherese Jackson (Virginia)
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