CHELSEA, Manhattan (PIX11) — Employees are allowed to be absent on occasion for mental health days in many workplaces. Children would be able to do the same thing in New York schools if a bill set to be introduced in the state Legislature this week passes.
However, not every parent supports the measure, and some pediatric mental health experts question whether or not the proposed legislation is adequate enough to address broader mental health challenges.
The measure is being introduced in the New York State Senate by Brad Hoylman, the senator representing the West Side of Midtown and parts of Lower Manhattan. He said that it would be introduced simultaneously in the State Assembly.
Hoylman said that his bill would make a school day missed for mental health reasons an excused absence.
“Just like if you have a cold or the flu,” Hoylman said in an interview, “mental health is as important as other forms of physical well-being, if not more important.”
Hoylman introduced similar bills in 2017 and 2019. Since then, however, the number of other states with similar measures has increased significantly, from three to 12.
Hoylman said that the growth is an acknowledgment of the need and also shows that other states’ experiences with mental health day laws show that the days are helpful.
“Their experience shows,” he said, that students are “not taking advantage of it, taking mental health days, to play hooky. In fact, just the opposite.”
Kayla Rodriguez, a 7th grader in a public school in Hoylman’s district, agreed that the senator’s proposal is necessary.
“Everyone deserves a mental health day,” Rodriguez said.
Her mother concurred.
“Some just really need a break,” said Emelyn Matos, the mother. “It’s just the way it is. It should be readily available to them.”
Recent surveys from the Centers for Disease Control and the homework help website Brainly show that 44 percent of high schoolers report feeling sad or hopeless, and 67 percent of all students say they need a mental health break from their studies.
Not every parent is convinced. Nyoka Watson, who has two children in school, both with special needs, said, “Just having a mental health day is depriving them of something they need to learn and build on.”
She added that she’d prefer more psychological support at her children’s schools.
“Maybe have somebody put into school, like another mental health service,” she said.
Donna Hallas, the director of the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP) Program at NYU’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing, is a psychiatric mental health primary care specialist. She said that while a mental health day on a rare occasion might be helpful, having many other supports in schools, including more school psychologists, social workers, and trained psychiatric care nurses, can provide the most effective help.
“If it’s just a one-time thing,” she said, a mental health day can be a boon, “but if it’s a repeat, there’s a sign there that something’s going wrong.”
Hoylman, the bill’s sponsor, said it’s part of a larger legislative effort to boost mental health resources for the 2.6 million students in New York State’s public schools.
He said that he intends to start the process of the measure becoming law by introducing it in the Senate when it convenes in Albany this week.