Should You Let Your Kids Miss School for A Mental Health Day?

January 20, 2023

The concept of the mental health day is not necessarily new, but the act of physically taking time away from one’s daily stressors and obligations to care for their mental health is a little less common than some believe. Many people talk about taking a mental health day or needing a mental health day, but few actually take the time necessary to reset and focus on their emotional health. There could be several reasons for this ranging from not knowing how to take a mental health day to being concerned about taking time away from work and obligations.

The need to care for mental and emotional health is not solely reserved for adults. Today’s youth (adolescents and teens alike) face many daily stressors and challenges to their overall well-being that challenge their emotions. When these stressors become too difficult to manage, a mental health day may help. But many parents wonder if they should allow their kids to miss school for a mental health day.

What are Mental Health Days?

A mental health day occurs when one takes time away from work or school. This time involves reducing obligations, commitments and responsibilities to the greatest extent possible, allowing for focus on relaxation, stress reduction, and fun. A mental health day may not address the root causes of stress and anxiety, but taking the time to shift one’s focus away from daily challenges towards self-care and self-reflection can help prevent burnout and other stress-related responses. For youth and teens, this time can provide several benefits, especially when stressors begin to have a harmful impact on their social, emotional, personal and academic health.

Is A Mental Health Day For Kids A Good Idea?

How do parents decide when or if a mental health day is a good idea for their child? First, it helps to understand why your child is asking to stay home from school, especially if they aren’t noticeably sick with a cold or another medical ailment. A little detective work may help you better understand the underlying emotions behind their need for a short break. Consider the following questions:

  • Did something happen recently at school that was upsetting or challenging, such as a disagreement with a friend or an embarrassing situation?
  • Are they overwhelmed or worried about schoolwork?
  • Are they experiencing higher than usual (for them) levels of anxiety, stress, or sadness?
  • Did they just finish a challenging assignment, exam, or paper that required a lot of studying or excess work?
  • Is something occurring at home that could increase stress, such as the loss of a loved one, the death of a family pet, divorce, moving, or illness?

Having a better understanding of their emotional state and why they may need time to calm their mind can help you determine if a mental health day for your teen is the right choice. It may also help to ask yourself how you would address your mental and emotional needs if placed in the same situation. Many parents find that when used appropriately, mental health days are beneficial for their children. A recent survey conducted by Parents Magazine asked more than 1000 parents of US teens about mental health days. The study results show more than 75% of parents indicated mental health days are an effective tool to help their children manage their mental health. The survey also showed that 56% of parents have allowed their child to take a mental health day, and another 32% would consider doing so.

What are the Benefits of A Mental Health Day for Teens?

If you wonder about whether you should allow your teens to take a mental health day, you may also wonder about the benefits of a teen mental health day. Below is a short list of reasons why taking a day away from school can help your teen re-energize and reset.

Time away from school allows for self-care

The academic environment today is highly stressful. Many students from all grade levels feel stressed to perform and achieve high academic milestones. They also experience peer pressures related to fitting in with certain social groups or qualifying for athletic teams. Unfortunately, the high levels of pressure associated with reaching these goals can negatively impact your teen’s emotional and social health.

Mental health days allow your teen to support themselves outside of the academic environment through self-care and other stress management tools. A mental health day allows your teen to step back from daily stressors and challenges before they become overwhelmed. It also provides an opportunity to reach out to a provider like ours at Hillcrest for support in developing and practicing coping and stress management tools.

Mental health days help reduce stigma

Data provided by the National Alliance on Mental Health, approximately one in six youth between ages six and seventeen has a mental health condition. While many mental health diagnoses are highly treatable, many children do not seek or avoid seeking treatment due to the stigma associated with mental illness and therapy. In many instances, teens do not know or understand the crucial importance of caring for their mental health.

Allowing teens to take a day off for mental health can help reinforce the importance of putting emotional and mental health before other obligations. Allowing your teen a mental health day validates the emotions and symptoms of youth who live with trauma, anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders.

Mental health days improve academic performance

A critical argument against the benefit of mental health days is the effect that taking time off from school can have on learning and academic opportunities. Although there is a degree of truth to these concerns, many mental health professionals agree that focusing on learning and growth is impossible when stress and other mental health symptoms occupy all aspects of your teen’s thoughts. In these cases, academic performance declines rather than improves. A mental health day provides an opportunity for your teen to reduce their stress and reset their emotions. This allows them to return to school energized, refreshed, and better able to focus on learning.

How Can You Help Your Teen Make the Most of a Mental Health Day?

If you agree to a mental health day for your teen, it is essential to help them make the most of their time away. It is important to help them do things during their time off to protect and heal their mental health. This means a mental health day should not be used to catch up on homework or spend the day immersed in social media. Examples of some activities that are ideal for a mental health day may include:

  • Exercise
  • Taking a walk or hike
  • Participating in a hobby such as painting, baking, or drawing
  • Listening to music or reading a book

It is essential to set limits around mental health days. For example, let your child know that while you support mental health days, they are not always an option. A mental health day is not appropriate in all cases. Examples of ways to set limits on mental health days could include agreeing on a set number of mental health days per school year or semester and adhering to that agreement with your teen. If your teen asks for more frequent days or more days than your agreed-upon schedule allows, it is crucial to have a conversation about why they feel anxious, upset, or worried. A better understanding of their current mental health can help you move forward with ways to reduce stressors and anxiety.

When Is it Time to Ask for Help?

Mental health days should be just that-a day to relax, reflect and re-energize. They are not a suitable substitute for comprehensive mental health treatment or an alternative solution to stress and anxiety that affects your teen on a regular basis. If your teen frequently complains of illness (whether valid or not) or is begging to stay home often, the break offered by a mental health day will not uncover or address the root of the problem.

In these cases, there may be an issue at school that contributes to their emotional health concerns, such as bullying, academic challenges, or an undiagnosed learning disorder or mental health condition. Suppose your teen’s symptoms do not improve after a mental health day, or they seem to worsen. In that case, you may consider a conversation with your child’s teacher, primary care provider, or a mental health provider at a teen-centered program like Hillcrest.

Frequent and persistent stress may be a sign of a mental health condition such as anxiety, depression, or another condition such as trauma-related disorders. Seeking professional help at Hillcrest can help your teen and family to develop a better understanding of the root causes of their symptoms. Evidence-based therapy models like cognitive-behaviors therapy (CBT), family-based therapies, and peer support groups offer an opportunity for your teen to explore their thoughts and emotions to help them develop healthier, more effective coping tools to manage high stress levels.

Many stress management tools not only help manage symptoms of various mental health conditions but also provide your teen with vital skills they can use each day when faced with typical challenges that occur at school, at home, or as a part of obligations outside of the academic environment. These coping tools and other self-care techniques learned during therapy can help your teen make the most of a mental health day or reduce the need for frequent mental health days in the future. If you would like to learn more about helping your teen care for their mental health and how our programs at Hillcrest can help, contact a member of our admissions team today.