Youth mental health is a serious concern to many. As an important part of children’s overall health and well-being, it can affect everything from their cognitive abilities, changing how they often think feel, and act. Also importantly, mental health affects the ways in which students learn. With a big impact on school life, educators have pushed for more attention to the escalating health of schoolchildren. Understanding those concerns, one state is ramping up efforts to combat the problem, as a Kentucky mental health bill allowing students to miss school for mental health reasons.
On Wednesday, April 20th, Kentucky’s Democratic Governor, Andy Beshear, signed a slew of bills into law for the bluegrass state. Of the signed bills, many of them addressed mental health, as Beshear announced they were “helping us build a better Kentucky.” The Kentucky mental health bill aimed at schoolchildren, known as House Bill 44, easily passed through the Democrat-controlled chambers of government, before becoming law. Going forward, students can now be excused from school for mental health reasons.
But just because the Kentucky mental health bill is now law, it does not necessarily mean all students in the state can enact this policy for missed school days. As the law reads, it will remain up to school districts to amend attendance policies to include provisions for excuses for absences for mental health days. But regardless, the sponsors and supporters of the bill are hopeful that the legislation will signify the importance of mental health for students, with a common goal to remove the stigma of discussing the concern.
It’s a growing concern that other states are addressing as well. The situation has become so dire, that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Hospital Association, and the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry declared an emergency in child and adolescent mental health at the beginning of this school year. Data from the CDC shows that the proportion of children’s mental health-related emergency room visits shot up from 24% in 2019 to 31% in 2020. But the Kentucky mental health bill isn’t the only of its kind, as more and more states are joining the battle to ramp up efforts as well.
The National Academy for State Health Policy (NASHP) reports that from the time period between March 2020 and December 2021, over 92 state laws were enacted or being pushed through legislation to support schoolchildren’s mental health at the school level. States have boosted funding for the support, implemented strategic plans, and expanded educational resources for school staff. The Kentucky mental health law might seem like one of a kind, buts it’s part of a bigger push nationwide to add these types of excused absence days to the docket.
Utah was documented as being the first state to impose mental health days for students in school. In Maine, students can be excused from school due to personal illness, which covers mental or behavioral health. Illinois also has a similar bill in motion which allows students to take time off for mental health.
In Maine, students can be excused when the absence is due to personal illness, including mental or behavioral health. Illinois includes mental and behavioral health as an excused absence, and students who use a second mental health day may be referred to the appropriate school support personnel. With the Kentucky mental health bill, another state now joins those ranks.
It might not seem like much, but any step forward could have a significant positive effect on students’ mental health. Now that the Kentucky mental health bill has been signed into law, the state now allows an additional 10 days for students to be excused for mental or behavioral health reasons. It’s a long road to recovery, but Kentucky is hopeful they can make a difference.