New Illinois Law Grants Students Five Mental Health Days


Kathy Peterson-Ross, Staff Writer

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker recently signed a new state law allowing students to take a maximum of five days off school for mental or behavioral health reasons, beginning in January.

Students age 7-17 do not need provide a doctor’s note and can make up the work missed, according to the law.

Even before Covid, experts have noted a jump in teen depression, anxiety, and suicide.

“I have noticed a huge increase in people seeking support this year compared to what we experienced during remote learning, suggesting that while being at home was stressful, coming back may be more so,” social worker Daniel Maigler said.

The new law could help students with some of their stress, senior Hannah Ziperstein said.

“I think my parents would let me take a mental day off because along with sports, senior year classes, college applications, I’ve been stressed out and think a day off would help me,” she said.

Students previously would need to have been diagnosed with mental illness or a doctor’s note to take a mental health day. Mental health days could be taken for a variety of reasons including overwhelming amounts of stress, feelings of sadness, any mental health issues, and much more.

In the past, students who were having mental or behavioral issues would have to cite physical illnesses (headache, fever, stomachache) or get a doctor’s note in order to get an unexcused absence from school.

“Let’s try to call mental health issues what they are, acknowledge that they exist and are having a real impact, and give families the opportunity to address them without pretending they are something else,” Maigler said.

Of course, some people think students should power through the day versus missing valuable class instruction, notes, quizzes, and tests.  They believe the stress of falling behind in class will be greater than the stress relief of taking a few days off class.

“We always feel that it is better for kids to be in class if they can bring at least 25% of their mental energy with them; however, if a student is in class and not able to learn or absorb anything, then it’s better for both the student and teacher to realize that the information is not getting through,” Maigler said.

LFHS has many stress-relieving resources for students to utilize during the school day. Every student has a CORE team of a dean, counselor, social worker, and psychologist, who are there to provide whatever support the student may need.

“I hope very few students would need to use all five mental health days over the course of a year, but I think every student should be reassured that it is normal to have mental health challenges, and hopefully knowing they could take a day off if they need them will make them feel more supported,” Maigler said.