Mental health problems, whether clinically diagnosed or not, appear to be on the rise in the United States. Whether this trend is due to a declining societal stigma against mental health, or a result of more mentally taxing careers and lifestyles, it calls for an alteration to aging systems. In both schools and workplaces, “mental health days” are becoming normalized, rising to hold the same credibility of provided time off for physical ailments. Despite this trend, critics claim the allowance is merely treating a symptom of a mental ailment, rather than the true issue. These individuals praise financially investing in counseling programs, rather than providing time off as a treatment.
In a 2018 study, researchers collected data from groups of middle schoolers, intending to compare how students with emotional and behavioral disorders perceive school differently than their peers without disabilities. The study did in fact find that students with pre-existing emotional and behavioral disorders had a lower, more negative perception of school climate (La Salle et al. 2018). This appears to correlate with a higher risk of peer victimization, resulting in an even less comfortable learning environment. Students without disorders also experienced a climate of peer victimization, proving that youth without pre-existing emotional conditions were not the only ones negatively affected by the unavoidable stressors of a school environment. Overall, this article responded to a widely regarded notion that the school climate is a more negative environment for students with emotional and behavioral disorders, proving the perception to, generally, be true (La Salle et al. 2018).
The study utilized three subscales to evaluate research questions of interest: mental health, peer victimization, and school climate. The subscales all involved slightly different survey techniques, possibly eliminating some patterns of error. For instance, the mental health subscale asked students to answer a series of questions with the number of days they had experienced that symptom in the past month. On the other hand, the school climate subscale asked students to respond to certain statements about their school on a scale of strongly disagree to strongly agree. For every subscale, mean answers were summed, and a table comparison was made between students with emotional and behavioral disorders and those without (La Salle et al. 2018).
This study was somewhat limited by the fact that disability was self-reported, allowing for the possibility that students who did not self-report their conditions (or students that incorrectly diagnosed themselves) may have skewed the data incorrectly (La Salle et al. 2018). This could have been avoided by defining the disordered group as only students with a clinically diagnosed medical condition. Additionally, the study was confined to one southeast state, possibly providing an incorrect depiction of the average school climate nationwide (La Salle et al. 2018). In the future, the study should be expanded to include students and schools from multiple states in varying areas of the country. This expansion would provide more diverse evidence that better encapsulates the mental health trends across the entire nation.
This study provides quantitative evidence, rather than personal accounts or experiences, that demonstrates that mental health issues worsen the experience of school environments for those who have them. Thus, though the data collected is relatively predictable if one has any background knowledge on mental health, it demonstrates that extra support should be provided to ease the increased amounts of peer victimization these young individuals are exposed to daily. Additionally, the quantitative data can be used to combat the myth, usually held by older generations, that it is always necessary to push through every emotional struggle one experiences with no complaints and a refusal to show weakness. Therefore, this study can help usher in a new generation of individuals that are committed to erasing the stigma surrounding being gentle with oneself.
This mental health support can also come in the form of increased counseling resources and normalized conversations, complimenting the provided mental health days. Programs would allow individuals who are otherwise incapable of receiving treatment access therapy and support techniques, allowing them to develop better mental health practices. However, in house support does not replace the need for temporary removal from stressful conditions. Many school districts and companies have realized this and are now allowing for the provision of mental health days that hold the same legitimacy as sick days. For instance, Oregon recently passed a bill that calls for the allowance of five mental health days per three-month period (Kahr 2019).
A study performed in 2018 further investigates mental health support techniques, following a mental health summit that collected researchers, executives, and practitioners together with the goal of achieving guidelines to better improve an employer’s response methods in relation to arising mental health crises. The summit’s discussion included talk of how mental health impacts productivity, analyzation of past case studies regarding workplace mental health policies, and suggestion of the next action steps that should be taken to best provide assistance to various employees. The summit was not only a necessary step toward the normalization of mental health issues, but it also allowed professionals to make strides in defining health as more than just the treatment of physical ailments, but rather as something that encompasses mental wellbeing as well. This definition would include the depiction of mental health days along the same standards of legitimacy as time off for physical health issues. Takeaways from the summit included new ideas for support programs, along a refreshed perception of the importance of mental health (Goetzel et al. 2018).
Critics may argue that mental health days are not a noteworthy form of treatment as they do not tackle the origin of one’s mental health conditions. However, the break from excessive stimulation received in a school or workplace environment can allow an individual time to recover from undue stressors many experience in the modern world, even more so for those already suffering from mental ailments, adding to normal stressors. Along with the normalization of discussions surrounding mental health and the implementation of more in-house support systems at institutions, mental health days are an extremely viable option for providing temporary, but necessary, relief.
Goetzel RZ, Roemer EC, Holingue C, Fallin MD, McCleary K, Eaton W, Agnew J, Azocar F, Ballard D, Bartlett J. 2018. Mental health in the workplace: A call to action proceedings from the Mental health in the workplace: public health summit. J Occup Environ Med. 60(4): 322-330.
Kahr S. 2019. Oregon offers “mental health days” for students, employees need these too. Kununu. (accessed 2020 Sept 16) https://transparency.kununu.com/mental-health-day-for-employees-and-students/.
La Salle T, Peshak-George H, McCoach B, Polk T, Evanovih LL. 2018. An examination of school climate, victimization, and mental health problems among middle school students self-identifying with emotional and behavioral disorders. Sage Journals: Behavioral Disabilities. 43(3): 383-392.
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Kaufman R. 2018. What Is Stress Resilience and Can It Be Learned? Brainfacts. https://www.brainfacts.org/Diseases-and-Disorders/Mental-Health/2018/What-is-stress-resilience-and-can-it-be-learned-071018