Oregon's public school system is updating its sick day policy in response to a campaign by teen activists, NPR reports. Prior to the change, students could only be excused from school for doctor's appointments, emergencies, or physical illnesses. Now, a new bill allows students to take mental health days just as easily as they would take sick days for a cold.
Hailey Hardcastle, an 18-year-old from Oregon, became aware of the importance of mental health days while attending summer camp for the Oregon Association of Student Councils last year. There, she organized workshops for students to brainstorm solutions to mental health issues. One of the ideas they came up with was giving students the freedom to stay home from school to take care of their mental wellbeing.
They didn't drop the idea when the brainstorm ended. Hardcastle, along with three other teens, went down to the Oregon Capitol to lobby for a bill that would oblige schools to accept mental health days as a valid excuse for absences. Their activism worked: In June 2019, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed a bill officially recognizing mental health days into law.
Recent research has found that teens and young adults are more depressed now than they were a decade ago. In the U.S., suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people, and across ages, Oregon's suicide rates are higher than the national average. Oregon's new mental health day policy not only helps students on their worst mental health days, but by acknowledging the problem, aims to reduce the stigma around mental illness.
By passing the law, Oregon has become one of the only states in the country to allow students to stay home for mental health reasons. Utah enacted a similar law in 2018.