VILLA PARK, Ill. – Seeking to create a new opportunity for students to have conversations about mental health with their parents and school administrators, state Rep. Deb Conroy, D-Villa Park, introduced legislation to allow students to use excused absences, typically reserved for physical illnesses, for mental health reasons.
“A student who is struggling with their mental health should have the same ability to take care of themselves as someone with the flu or an injury,” said Conroy, who leads the House Mental Health Committee. “Unfortunately, the vast majority of young people are forced either to push through the day when they’re suffering or pretend that they are physically sick to get the day off. Both options teach kids to ignore their mental health rather than encourage the open dialogue necessary to get students the help they need.”
Rates of mental illness and psychological distress among youth are increasing. If a young person’s struggle with their mental health is unaddressed, they are more likely to develop substance abuse issues, become involved in the criminal justice system and even attempt suicide. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and teens. Suicide attempts increased by 50 percent in just under a decade with out of ten Illinois high school students reporting that they have made an attempt.
“As rates of clinical depression, anxiety and suicide attempts continue to rise, our young people need open conversations about mental health now more than ever,” said Conroy. “Children and teens with unaddressed mental health issues are more likely than their peers to struggle in adulthood. Sometimes, all it takes is a day off for an overwhelmed student to feel better. Other times, it’s a conversation that leads to lifesaving resources like therapy. My hope is that this measure will encourage kids, parents and educators to consider mental health to be just as vital to a student’s wellbeing as physical health.”