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Oregon public school students to be excused for ‘mental health’ days

The state of Oregon recently enacted a law which will grant public school students up to five mental health days per three-month period beginning this coming school year.

According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, House Bill 2191 came out of a student “brainstorming workshop.” Hailey Hardcastle, an incoming University of Oregon freshman, said the “the impact of suicide” was a catalyst for the legislation, as were the Parkland, Florida school shootings.

“We were inspired by Parkland in the sense that it showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation,” she said. “Just like those movements, this bill is something completely coming from the youth.”

Oregon’s suicide rate has been higher than the national average for the last 30 years.

Chris Bouneff, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Oregon, said of the law “We’re not talking about ‘I just don’t feel like going to school.,’ We’re talking about real disorders, real things that have real impacts. It’s hard to address them systematically if they have to stay hidden because of stigma and prejudice and shame.”

An editorial in the Corvallis Gazette-Times says HB 2191 “might be a way to help students under stress who are seeking relief from the unrelenting pressure of social media.”

However, National Review’s John Hirschauer takes on the distinction between mental health and those “real disorders,” aka mental illness:

“Mental health” is a euphemism, while mental illness — schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. — has that rather inconvenient feature of meaning something. How many “mental-health days” do you think will be spent by students attending to a psychotic break? …

Regardless of the admirable charm of its backers, [the law] will exacerbate the problems it purports to allay. …

And what exactly is “mental health”? D. J. Jaffe writes about mental-illness policy for the Manhattan Institute, and even he has noted how elusive the concept can be:

Social goals . . . have been arbitrarily wrapped into the mental health narrative: improving grades, ending poverty, cutting divorce rates, helping individuals gain comfort with their gender identity, decreasing rates of bullying, and increasing employment.

The very premise of the bill — that days off from school will abate the suicide problem —misdiagnoses the cause of the suicide epidemic. Does sapping kids of their fortitude and resolve, indulging the timid impulse that tells them they’re just not strong enough to go to history class today, really convince them that their lives are worth living?

The text of the bill says student absences cannot “exceed 10 days in any term of at least six months” (which makes sense as ten is double five, and six is double three). But given there are nine months in a school year, theoretically a student could claim a total of fifteen mental health days per year.

With a reason like “unrelenting pressure of social media,” kids wouldn’t take advantage of that, would they?

MORE: Students protest Brett Kavanaugh as threat to ‘mental health’

MORE: Students need to learn what mental health actually means

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.