Oregon passes law letting students take mental health days

Inspired by their own personal experiences, students in Oregon successfully lobbied the state to pass new legislation.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Drew Weisholtz

The state of Oregon will now allow students to take an excused day off of school for mental health reasons.

The new law, signed last month by Gov. Kate Brown and expected to go into effect this fall, lets students take up to five mental health days every three months, although school districts are free to create their own schedules. Students will also be granted permission to make up any tests they may have missed.

"I took on this cause for a personal reason first off because so many of my close friends in high school struggled with depression, and there were times when I saw them at school when they really shouldn't have been there, would have been much better for them to take a day off,” Hailey Hardcastle, a recent high school graduate who was among those lobbying for the new law, told TODAY.

Derek Evans, who was also a senior last year and joined Hardcastle in pushing for the law, said he was partly inspired by the actions of other teens after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

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Sam Adamson, Lori Riddle, Hailey Hardcastle and Derek Evans pose at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. The teens introduced legislation to allow students to take "mental health days" as they would sick days in an attempt to respond to a mental health crisis gripping the state.AP

"The Parkland shooting was a great example of students having to take their own issues into their own hands,” he said.

“It's our generation," he added. "It's our duty to help."

In Oregon, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds. Nationally, suicide is at a 50-year high.

Addressing mental health is long overdue, said Debbie Plotnik, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Mental Health America.

"The first step to confront this crisis is to reduce the stigma around it," she told NBC News. "We need to say it's just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness."

While some people have criticized this new law, claiming students will use the opportunity to take off days when they don’t need to, those in support of the legislation say the time has come.

“Children are already missing school for mental health reasons," Hardcastle said. "The thing is, they're lying about it. They're doing the old-school pretending they had a fever, or they're sick, or a headache."

"Our biggest goal is just making sure that everyone knows that mental health is just as valid as physical health,” Evans said.

Oregon is the latest state to address mental health issues among students. Utah passed a similar law last year and Florida has ordered schools to offer mental health classes in their curriculum starting in sixth grade.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.