We know exactly how many of you reacted when you saw the story about the new state law that allows students to take mental health days just as they would sick days and to have them count as excused absences.
You possibly reacted the same way we did initially: Here's another example of how we're coddling kids today, you might have thought. And doesn't Oregon already have a problem with students missing too many days of school? And, yes, it's true about absenteeism in state schools.
But to call it coddling misses the mark. Rather, the bill is a true reflection of the world these students live in today. It might be a way to help students under stress who are seeking relief from the unrelenting pressure of social media. And it's not at all out of the question that the bill just might save a life or two.
The bill allowing these mental health days was signed last month by Gov. Kate Brown, and it represents a victory for the youthful activists who fought for the measure during this year's legislative session. Experts say the law is one of the first of its kind in the United States. Maybe just as important, mental health experts say it is one of the first state laws to explicitly instruct schools to treat mental health and physical health equally, and that's a vitally important point.
Here's why: We increasingly have an understanding of the very strong linkage between physical health and mental health. For too long, we've treated the two as separate entities, and as a result, for some people, mental health issues carry with them a stigma that we don't attach to physical maladies. That stigma can prevent people from seeking the help they need. And it allows us to relegate mental health issues to the shadows much too often.
We've paid a dear price for that: Oregon has one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Suicide is the No. 2 killer of young people between the ages of 10 and 34 (motor vehicle accidents rank No. 1). Oregon's suicide rate is 40% higher than the national average.
Hailey Hardcastle, an 18-year-old from the Portland suburb of Sherwood, helped to champion the mental health bill. (The Associated Press story that appeared in Monday's newspaper about the bill misspelled Hailey's first name.) She said one of the hopes behind the measure is that it will "encourage kids to admit that they're struggling."
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The bill attracted little opposition from lawmakers, but some parents argued that the bill might encourage students to lie about needing a mental health day in order to get an excused absence from school. But this is an argument that rings hollow; students so inclined would find excuses to take a day off regardless.
But a student who legitimately needs a mental health day, and says so, might be taking the first step on a journey to get help.
"Being open to adults about our mental health promotes positive dialogue that could help kids get the help they need," Hardcastle said, and we couldn't phrase that any better. (mm)
Just veto the bill
A spokeswoman for Gov. Kate Brown said Tuesday that the governor was still pondering Senate Bill 761, the bill the Legislature passed on its last day that would make it more difficult for citizens to qualify an initiative for the ballot. This is the bill that Brown told an interviewer made her "grumpy," because the initiative process was "near and dear to my heart."
The bill bars initiative supporters from handing out copies of electronic signature sheets to Oregonians to sign and submit. Instead, voters will have to print their own forms or personally ask someone to print one for them. And each signature sheet must include the complete text of the proposed measure. The bill's not-so-secret agenda is to suppress initiatives and it has attracted opposition from groups such as the Oregon League of Women Voters. Brown is right to feel grumpy about the bill. She should veto it. (mm)