Student Unplugged

Opinion columnist Jenna Barackman argues that KU should implement mental health days.

Following increased levels of substance abuse and suicidal ideation among adolescents, it is clear the COVID-19 pandemic created a mental health crisis for students.

While the overall suicide rate decreased by 3% during the first year of the pandemic, the problem has worsened for college students. In a survey of over 43,000 college students, 72% reported that the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected their mental health. Among 18 to 24-year-olds, 25.5% reported they seriously considered suicide in the 30 days before completing the survey. For adolescent girls during the pandemic, the suicide rate increased by 51%.

Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 34. So why is mental health not taken as seriously as physical illness?

Mental health has significant effects on physical health and should not be neglected. Bad mental health decreases students’ ability to concentrate, complete assignments and meet attendance requirements drastically, which creates greater drop-out rates. 

College students struggling with a mental illness are twice as likely to drop out before earning a degree.

To combat this trend, Oregon passed a law allowing students to take mental health days off from school the same way employees use traditional sick days. Six states — Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada and Virginia — followed soon after. Most policies allow students to take up to five mental health days.

It is time for Kansas, and KU, to do the same.

According to a poll of 1,516 students, 78% of respondents said schools should support "mental health days." Clearly, this is a necessity for many students’ wellbeing.

KU succeeds at advertising its mental health resources, but adding mental health days is an important resource to include.

When a student endures a physical injury, professors often excuse their absence — especially with a doctor’s note. Meanwhile, if a student is at home and emotionally unable to attend class, that is seldom viewed as an acceptable reason to miss class. This stigma needs to change.

Mental health days allow students to control their mental health and ensure they are both mentally and physically healthy.

In order to better support students, destigmatize mental illness and stop the rising suicide rate, schools must take action now. Mental health days are just the beginning.

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