Mental health days need to be normalized


By Sydney Radke, Reporter

A tear down your cheek, the overwhelming feeling in your stomach, the anxious weight on your chest, the circling thoughts in your head that never stop…it happens to all of us, but there is nothing wrong with taking a break, or even a day off.

Over time, mental health has become more prominent in our society, especially for those in high school or college. Life sometimes just takes a lot of energy out of teenagers, and it is totally normal and okay to feel like a day off is necessary. 

“1 in 4 people deal with mental health and 1 in 6 people take prescribed medications for it,” wrote Erin Pawlak, therapist and Adolescent IOP Director for the  Behavior Wellness Group.

So why are more students not taking a day off to focus on mental health? Most of the stigma surrounding mental illness comes from the fact Americans are not raised with the idea of taking time off for mental health. Many people fail to realize anxiety and stress are genuinely draining throughout the day. Most of the time, parents and friends say, “It’s okay, you’re fine,” or, “Snap out of it,” when really, overcoming mental health issues can be a lot harder said than done.

Recently Governor J.B. Pritzker passed a law stating that students under the age of 18 are able to take 5 mental health days per school year. The law, in and of itself, is not exactly fair because those who are seniors turning 18 at the beginning of the school year no longer have a solution to the really hard days that are weighing them down. Though these mental health days are very beneficial, if a student were to take 2 or more of them, then it is then required to see a social worker for a “well-being” checkup. Sometimes, the need to take a mental health day can simply be the result of a rough day or night that then pushes people to their limits, but the fact that after 2, it is required that the student have to talk about their problems is not always the most welcoming approach, especially if the reasons for the mental health day are personal. The requirement to speak with a social work is definitely a consequence that does not have to be in place, since sometimes, these “days off” do not have any ulterior meaning other than stress. 

And so, it is important to mention that in taking a day off, students are able to de-stress. For some, even waking up and getting ready for the day can be worrisome and difficult. Mental health days allow students the freedom to do whatever they need to do to feel better and mentally prepare for the next day. No one should be discouraged by the idea that taking a day off is “stupid” or that doing so makes one “weak”. The way someone feels is more important than any opinion they are going to hear from someone else. 

Photo by Sasha Baumgartner

Students are not the only ones that need to take a day off when it comes to your mental health, it is just as relevant for adults. 

“With the internet and social media, people are expected to respond to emails at all hours of the day. Even if people take a day off, they have a hard time getting completely away from work,” said Dr. Andrew Kuller of McLean Hospital.

The one problem that can sometimes get lost in the idea of taking a mental health day is technology. Yes, in this day and age, everyone is involved with technology and needs it 24/7 to survive (I exaggerate, of course), however, setting the phone down for the day, or even just a couple of hours, can relieve some stress and anxiety that has been piling up. One thing that should be understood by those in support – or against – the concept of taking a day off for mental health purposes, is that one does not have an obligation to answer texts, or calls, or even emails. In fact, technology could just be a reminder of stress that one is trying to avoid.

Gundersen Health System, a healthcare system in the Upper Midwest, recommends people take time to decide what you need most. Do you need to relax? Or maybe you need some time with family or friends? Maybe you need a day of shopping and pampering. You know yourself best so think about what it is that would make you feel re-energized.”

The topic of mental health is one that should be normalized. Mental health days are something everyone needs once in a while. I have experienced anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed as second semester commenced because it feels like stress and anxiety has been piled on me all at once: my friends have expressed the same. 

Recently, these feelings got so bad that I walked into my first period class, and felt like I could not breathe. However, because of the stigma behind mental health days, and the fact I did not want to disappoint the people around me, I stuck it out and finished the day. 

The idea that it is wrong to take a day to breathe and let go of all that is clogging your mind is wrong, and should not discourage someone from taking a mental health day. Over the past couple months, I have observed my friends and I become absolutely drained, mentally and physically, because we are pushing ourselves so much to finish the year strong and be the best we can be – for ourselves, and the people who have high expectations for us. This time of year is when it gets the hardest because students are focusing on AP tests and making sure we maintain the grades that are good enough for us and sometimes even our parents. If students have the option to take a day to ourselves, I do not see why that is wrong. Taking one day to regroup, and then coming back stronger is better than just sitting through one’s classes, wishing there was an option to go home rather than staying focused. 

High school is supposed to be the place where we are living and making memories that will never be forgotten, but lately, it seems we are just surviving and trying to get through the day. Taking time to relax and recuperate is important: those who do not are never going to be able to enjoy the days ahead because all they  will be doing is focusing on the things that are inside their brains, and the assignments that they have been unable to complete because of the stress and anxiety that has yet to calm down.

When a student endures a physical injury, professors often excuse their absence — especially with a doctor’s note. Meanwhile, if a student is at home and emotionally unable to attend class, that is seldom viewed as an acceptable reason to miss class. This stigma needs to change,” said reporter Jenna Barackman for The University Daily Kansan.

Our next steps, as students and humans, is to forget about the stigma behind mental health days and genuinely focus on what is necessary for our minds and for our bodies. Everyone is going to have opinions, but the opinion that matters the most is your own. If we cannot handle getting out of bed on a given day, or going to school, then it should not be a thought of that “we’re weak”, but rather that “we’re human”.