16 Sep “Mental Health Days: A Positive Proposition,” by Andrew Malekoff, Blank Slate Media, September 13, 2018
In August 2019 the news was dominated by stories about the horrific mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif.; El Paso, Odessa and Midland, Texas; and Dayton, Ohio. In all, 41 died and more than 90 were wounded.
Among the dead and injured were children. As for the count of those who were emotionally impacted, that cannot be quantified. It transcends the boundaries of those locales.
In a familiar refrain, at the same time that the headlines screamed, the nation mourned and politicians took sides about causes and solutions. There was also a series of stories about efforts to institute mental health days in public schools, including in New York.
It’s not complicated to understand the value of a mental health day unless you are someone who denies that emotional health is as important as physical health. As it stands, New York schools can determine what constitutes a legitimate absence, but the proposed legislation would make a mental health issue an acceptable reason for a student missing school.
Laws like this have already passed in Oregon thanks to the leadership of a number of student activists who pointed to ever-climbing suicide rates. Utah and Minnesota have passed similar laws. Still, the proposed legislation has its detractors, many of whom dismissed the notion in a disparaging manner. Following are a few comments that were posted on social media:
“Of course there are students with serious mental health issues. This would/should already be recognized and documented by professional mental health practitioners. Why do we need legislation to allow [kids] who are too stressed over texting all night to take a day off?”
“Kids need to suck it up & go to school. I didn’t have mental health days; my parents raised me with manners, to respect others, go to school and never quit, and if I ever got into trouble I got punished! Kids today are not being disciplined, have zero manners & act like babies.”
“Snow-flakes have mental health issues. They are emotional wrecks over ANYTHING that upsets them… Yes, there are serious mental health issues, but cry rooms in college and days off because you had a fight with a BFF? Please, this is a MAJOR offense to the REAL mental issues like gun violence.”
“We just keep getting softer and softer… The greatest generation must be just heartbroken that we’ve let it get this bad.”
“I cant go to class today ‘ma im questioning my sexual identity.”
“LMFAO!! Bunch of pansies.”
Of course, not everyone took that viewpoint. As one parent put it, “I for one am glad. As a parent of a teen that has thought of suicide [and] actively self-harms, this will relieve some of my stress and anxiety.”
In reading the critical social media posts, I get where some of these people are coming from. I am a strong work ethic guy. As a former high school and college athlete, I learned early on about “sucking it up,” playing injured and keeping my mouth shut. As for discussing emotional issues, that was a no-no.
Times have changed and for the better. Having a strong work ethic is a question of values, which is not negated by saying when you are hurt — physically or emotionally. Being open about a mental health problem is not a sign of weakness or a sign that you’re a “snowflake,” implying an unwarranted sense of entitlement or being overly emotional.
On balance, the new legislation will go a long way toward reducing the stigma of mental illness and tempering the toxic masculinity that enabled me to keep concussions a secret during my teenage years.
The mass shootings? As the debate about causes and solutions advances, the level of anxiety and fear among our children is escalating. Would a mental health day following a mass shooting be justified? Or is that just another snowflake excuse to miss school? Let’s hope it’s the former because the day it is not is the day America cashes in its humanity.
Andrew Malekoff is the executive director of North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, which provides comprehensive mental health services for children from birth through 24 and their families. To find out more, visit www.northshorechildguidance.org.