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Why mental health days are important for students

Why mental health days are important for students

Statistics show that student stress levels have skyrocketed in recent years. Research conducted in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that 42% of students in the United States felt hopeless or persistently sad — and 29% reported poor mental health. Further, 22% said they seriously thought about dying by suicide, and 10% made an actual attempt. 

Poor mental health in children and teens is one of the most critical issues we face as a society today. Every day, our children grapple with anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges that hinder their success in school, social settings, and home life.

We must help our students learn to navigate common mental health challenges so many of them are facing today. Providing mental health days for students is one effective strategy to address this issue. This holistic approach is just one of many ways to improve mental health in schools. It's important to note that mental health days are distinct from regular days off on weekends. While weekends can provide a break from academic pressures, they can also be filled with other activities, chores, and social obligations, leaving little time for genuine rest and self-reflection.

Read on to learn why students should have mental health days in schools. 

Student mental health & academic performance

The connection between mental well-being and academic success has been widely studied. We know that stress and anxiety can take a toll on students, hamper their learning, and impede their ability to retain information. 

Research shows that stress can have a detrimental effect on academic performance. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), stress affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain responsible for high-level thinking. When students’ stress levels spike, engaging in critical thinking activities or absorbing information presented can become incredibly challenging. Given this research, the case for schools offering mental health days becomes compelling.

“Individuals are tenacious and resilient. But, restorative time can help recharge batteries by offering adequate rest from stimuli, stressors, and anxieties. Stepping away from goals, even briefly, can improve focus and concentration, in a way that allows anyone to aptly tune in with more clarity for assignments and engaged learning.” - Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW

7 benefits of mental health days for students

An increasing number of schools are recognizing the need for student mental health days, especially considering the mounting pressures today's youth face. That said, another factor worth mentioning is the shelter-in-place lockdowns during the pandemic. Research suggests that the lockdowns caused so much stress in some young people’s lives we’re now seeing a neurological aftermath — their brains are prematurely aged.

"Schools aren't the only advocates for some "me-time." A 2021 survey asked parents: should students have mental health days? 70% support schools giving children mental health days off. Some well-defined benefits can come from it, too. 

1. Gives students a break from continuous pressure

Today’s students face enormous amounts of pressure — academically and socially. Assignments, homework, assessments, and extracurriculars bring persistent pressure into their lives, especially in high school. It’s so taxing that current studies show teenagers report higher stress levels than adults during the school year.

Mental health days in schools can give children and teenagers much-needed downtime without needing an excused absence. The respite can help them clear their minds, recharge their bodies, and ultimately improve their ability to cope with the demands they face.

2. Reduces stress and anxiety

Taking a mental health day will help students learn to manage their stress. A break allows students to destress and re-energize so they can cope better, both now and in the future. This is a life skill that adolescents can carry into adulthood. 

3. Allows time for self-reflection and self-care 

Mental health days give students time to take stock of their feelings, emotions, and overall mental well-being. These days encourage self-care, like reading a book, meditating, doing yoga, going for a walk, or doing anything they love to do but rarely have time for when facing academic pressures in their daily life.

4. Prevents burnout

Pressure to perform academically can lead some students down the path of burnout. Burnout is one of the most common reasons for chronic absenteeism. A mental health day can help by offering a vital break that lets kids take time off from their non-stop grind. A day away from schoolwork can reduce fatigue and restore energy levels, which are linked to burnout. If you’re wondering how to deal with student absenteeism, consider offering dedicated mental health days so students don’t feel burnt out.

5. Improves academic performance

Allowing students to take a mental health day when needed can improve academic performance. American Psychological Association (APA) research discovered that stress impacts memory and cognitive skills, which are crucial for learning. Encouraging children to take breaks will help their brains function better when they return to the classroom.

6. Enhances creativity and critical thinking

A recent study found that stress can severely limit our ability to think creatively. When students take time off from the constant pressures of school, they can engage in activities they enjoy and find inspiring. 

7. Promotes healthy life habits

Mental health days for students aren’t just about rest; they set the stage for how any young adult will react to stressful events and times in the future. Cultivating healthy life habits early on ensures that individuals confidently prioritize their mental well-being, physical health, and work-life balance in adulthood.

Make mental health a priority in schools

Schools aren’t just places for academic learning. They are vital spaces where children can develop emotional resilience and learn coping mechanisms they’ll use throughout life. Letting our children know that mental health is something we should all prioritize is one of the best lessons we can teach them. Current research shows that 1 out of every 6 children aged 6 - 17 in the United States will have at least 1 mental health episode or condition each year. To tackle this head-on, we need comprehensive programs in our schools. Mental health days are a great first step, and the benefits of mental health days for students are clear. 

Talkspace is a mental health service dedicated to promoting better youth mental health. By offering online therapy for students in a way that is convenient, affordable, and easily accessible, Talkspace bridges the gap between the pressures teens face and the support available to them.

Learn more about how Talkspace can help provide mental health support in your school today. 

Sources:

  1. “Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 8, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/data.html.  
  2. “Mental Health.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, June 1, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/mental-health/index.htm.  
  3. Deng, Yuwei, Jacob Cherian, Noor Un Khan, Kalpina Kumari, Muhammad Safdar Sial, Ubaldo Comite, Beata Gavurova, and József Popp. “Family and Academic Stress and Their Impact on Students’ Depression Level and Academic Performance.” Frontiers in Psychiatry 13 (2022). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2022.869337.  
  4. Abrams, Zara. “What Neuroscience Tells Us about the Teenage Brain.” Monitor on Psychology 53, no. 5 (2022): 66–66.https://www.apa.org/monitor/2022/07/feature-neuroscience-teen-brain.   
  5. Gotlib, Ian H., Jonas G. Miller, Lauren R. Borchers, Sache M. Coury, Lauren A. Costello, Jordan M. Garcia, and Tiffany C. Ho. “Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Mental Health and Brain Maturation in Adolescents: Implications for Analyzing Longitudinal Data.” Biological Psychiatry Global Open Science, 2022. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bpsgos.2022.11.002.   
  6. “Press Releases.” NAMI, December 15, 2021. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2021/NAMI-Poll-Parents-Want-Mental-Health-Education-in-Schools-Mental-Health-Days-Off-for-Students.  
  7. “American Psychological Association Survey Shows Teen Stress Rivals That of Adults.” American Psychological Association, 2014. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/02/teen-stress.  
  8. Piefke, Martina, and Katharina Glienke. “The Effects of Stress on Prospective Memory: A Systematic Review.” Psychology & Neuroscience 10, no. 3 (2017): 345–62. https://doi.org/10.1037/pne0000102
  9. Vartanian, Oshin, Sidney Ann Saint, Nicole Herz, and Peter Suedfeld. “The Creative Brain under Stress: Considerations for Performance in Extreme Environments.” Frontiers in Psychology 11 (2020). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.585969
  10. “Mental Health in Schools.” NAMI. Accessed October 9, 2023. https://www.nami.org/Advocacy/Policy-Priorities/Improving-Health/Mental-Health-in-Schools

 

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