Mental illness affects 1 in 5 of the US population. That means approximately 20% of Americans face daily challenges with their mental health. How does the stress of an education add to that?

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a new law stating that beginning January 2022 students ages 7-17 will be allowed five mental health days a school year without providing a doctor’s note. In addition to this new law, after the second used mental health day, students can be referred to school staff or a professional with phycology background for help.

“I think students would absolutely benefit from mental health days. I see enough students both as a professor and academic advisor who struggle with mental health concerns, especially during the busiest times in the semester to know that it is a concern,” said Dr. Chris Drew, a faculty member who teaches English at Indiana State University.

Mental health affects a large portion of the population. In order to reduce the amount of strain this has on students, it is important to allow them time off to compose themselves and catch up on assignments.

Parker Michael, a senior at ISU, said, “Allowing mental health days at a university level would be helpful to me to just have a chance to take a day off. I think many students could use this and the benefits would be abundant. I personally would use the days as a chance to rest and spend time on homework I wouldn’t normally have. I definitely think it would help me.”

Though the governor of Illinois has passed a law for students 7-17, it would be beneficial to look at this from a wider perspective. College students often work part-time while attending school. Adjusting to a new environment, working, and keeping up grades is a challenge and has potential to drain their mental health. Opening up mental health days nationwide to students of all ages would be valuable for those who pursue to further their education.

“I think the addition of mental health days and mental health awareness is a huge step to creating a better environment for all students. Students who need time to mentally recover from the strain of school could have the option to take a day off if we were to ask this law to be nationwide for any student,” said Michael. “I believe this would help the students make their days at school the best they could be, as they come back feeling better and in a good mental state.”

Senior teaching major at ISU, Marissa Miller plans to give her students mental health days regardless of the law only implying for Illinois. She said, “I think allowing my students time for their mental health is going to be very important. Even if they aren’t given the opportunity to miss school without a doctor’s note, I will let them relax as much as possible while in my classroom when they need a mental break.”

Mental health is important for anyone, but it is essential for students to take care of themselves and stay healthy while pursuing their education.

Drew said, “Mental health is hugely important while getting an education. For most students, it’s probably more important than physical health since a lot of younger people are generally in pretty good physical shape. We know how to work through a cold or a stomach bug, but mental health can be trickier and it affects almost all students to some degree. Often, students don’t even realize that’s the cause of something like anxiety or depression, which makes it even more important to learn about it, remove the stigma, and have ways of dealing with it. Mental health days would be a big step toward accomplishing that.”

Editor’s note: This article was written for Martha Milner’s COMM 309 class.