Mental health enters academic conversation

Writer shares his own experience battling mental health issues while in high school

Sebastian Herr

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Many students rejoice in the arrival of a three-day weekend with plans to hang out with friends or just watch Netflix, but for many students it’s a much-needed time for a mental breather.

This year, the state of Oregon’s public schools will be instituting a new policy that allows students to be excused for mental health reasons, just as they can be excused for being sick. Utah is the only other state that has defined mental health as a valid excuse for a school absence, which is a lackluster legal fact to say the least.

The need for this kind of change is dire, especially in states like Oregon. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Oregonians aged 10-24, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

According to the 2017 Oregon Healthy Teens Survey, 30.1% of eighth grade students and 32.2% of eleventh grade students reported feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row and that they had stopped doing some usual activities.

In that same survey, 16.9% of eighth grade students and 18.2% of eleventh grade students reported seriously considering attempting suicide in the past 12 months.

If a student doesn’t want to go to school for mental health reasons, it starts a conversation. However, if a student just says they are sick, unfortunately, few questions are asked.

I was guilty of that “trick” in high school. There was one spring semester I had been out “sick” the week before spring break and my mom forced me to go to school the Monday after the break ended.

It wasn’t until I told her that I was having suicidal thoughts in the car outside the doors of my high school that we had a real conversation about why I was actually missing school.

Since then, we’ve had a very open line of communication about my mental health, but that initial conversation may have never happened. But it would have happened a lot sooner if I knew mental health reasons were a valid excuse from school. 

Let’s just hope that more conversations about mental health are started with this kind of policy change. 

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