Mental Health Days: School Absence Policies
Where We Stand
NAMI believes that all people with mental health conditions deserve access to supports that promote wellness. NAMI supports public policies and laws that recognize mental health as an acceptable reason for absence from school.
Why We Care
There is no health without mental health, and good health has a clear positive impact on youth and adolescent educational outcomes. Ensuring that students of all ages are healthy and ready to learn when they come to school is important — as is encouraging them to focus on getting better when they are not well.
Because school is where most children spend much of their time, experiencing challenging periods of mental health also impacts their school life. One in six youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. Some students are considered at-risk youth, who are more likely to experience emotional and psychological problems than their peers. Some students may not necessarily have a mental health condition but are having a challenging day or week where their mental health is suffering. For all these students, there are times when their mental health can interfere with school performance or overall functioning.
When students are feeling physically unwell, there is a universal understanding that they should stay home and take time to feel better. Our mental health should be treated the same way. School policies that recognize mental health symptoms and treatment as an acceptable reason for absence can help students take the time they need to care for themselves, restore their health and help minimize additional symptoms. This can help normalize the conversation around mental health, which can in turn promote understanding and empathy and create a greater willingness to seek help if they need more intensive supports.
To reflect this understanding, many states and school boards across the nation have enacted policies allowing approved absences for mental health. Taking time to manage one’s mental health without fear of stigma or discrimination is one of many helpful strategies to support youth mental health. It should be normalized and encouraged. NAMI supports school policies that allow students to miss school to manage their mental health needs.
How We Talk About It
- There is no health without mental health, and students with good overall health often have better educational outcomes.
- School is where most children spend much of their time, so if they aren’t feeling well – physically or mentally — their school life can be impacted.
- It is widely accepted that if a student has a physical illness, they should stay home, get better, and come back to school when they feel well. When a student’s mental wellness needs attention, there often isn’t the same expectation.
- One in six youth have a mental health condition, like anxiety or depression. Others may not have a condition but may still be going through a difficult period.
- Students who need a “mental health day” should be allowed to miss school when they are not well, which helps normalize making mental wellness a priority.
- School policies that recognize mental health symptoms as an acceptable reason for absence from school can help students take the time they need to care for themselves, restore their health and help minimize additional symptoms.
- While this policy is important, if mental health challenges are regularly interfering with a student’s ability to attend and participate in school, they may benefit from more intensive resources in their community.
- Taking a sick day to manage one’s mental health shouldn’t be rare — it should be encouraged, without fear of stigma or discrimination. NAMI supports school policies that include both physical and mental health concerns as acceptable reasons for school absence, allowing students to better take care of all their health needs.
What We’ve Done:
- NAMI’s Ending the Silence Presentation Program
- NAMI’s page, Your Mental Health and School
- NAMI’s page, Getting Your Child Mental Health Support and Accommodations in School
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