Students need mental health days

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Weekly events

Ally Formeller, Columnist

The conversation around mental health is nothing new. Most college students experience some kind of mental health struggle. That’s why taking mental health days— whether from work or school— is important. 

But college students are suddenly being left out of the conversation.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law on Aug. 25 that allows children from the ages of seven to 17 to take up to five unexcused mental health days.

Obviously, this excludes college students. 

Technically, college students are usually already allowed a number of unexcused absences during the semester. At NIU, the number of allowed absences is heavily dependent on the professor.

These policies fail to acknowledge the fact that college students need the infrastructure and resources to feel supported. 

“It’s difficult for the brain to handle when a potential threat is lasting a very long time or when we don’t know what’s coming,” said Angela Grippo, professor of neuroscience and behavior.“That’s when we might see some damage in areas of the brain.” 

Without proper support, all of these symptoms can negatively affect a student’s academic performance, including reducing the ability to graduate.

Often, being allowed to take a break— even for a day or two— allows students to process their emotions and symptoms.

“For everyday common things that cause stress for us, taking time to focus on ourselves is critical,” Grippo said. “Because it can help us focus on reframing something that might be stressful for us.”

Taking mental health days is “meant to help reduce stress and burnout,” according to a Gundersen Health webpage— and college students are desperate for them. 

Most universities have mental health resources such as counseling options or therapy groups available to students. But that isn’t enough.

According to the Association for University and College Counseling Directors Annual Survey,  nearly all counseling center directors saw an increase in students seeking mental health services in 2019. 

However, most university counseling centers are unable to help each student that seeks mental health services. 

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness at Southwest Washington, “Students often have to wait weeks just for an initial intake exam to review their symptoms.” They have to wait even longer if they need a psychiatrist or medication. 

Frankly, college students need more accessible mental health support and giving them the option to take mental health days is another way university campuses can support students. This gives students time to decompress, relax and potentially find off-campus support as well. 

Everyone should get time to take a day to focus on [themselves]…or [their] mental health, whether you’re a child, a college student or retired,” Grippo said.

While taking mental health days isn’t a direct alternative to seeking additional mental health care, taking mental health days is important for students of all ages.