Illinois passes law ensuring mental health days for students

Emma Gilbert, Reporter

In October, Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law to allow school students ages 7-17 to take five excused mental health days without a doctor’s note, starting in January 2022. 

Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. According to the World Health Organization, good mental health is, a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” 

Mental health is the focus of Bethany Hoffert’s job; she is the school psychologist. 

“The students’ mental health is very important to me,” Hoffert said. “A lot of what I do focuses on the impact of mental illness on school life, and (how mental health) helps with our executive function skills.” 

Executive functioning is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. The three main areas of executive functioning are working memory, cognitive flexibility, and inhibitory control. Executive functioning is responsible for paying attention, organizing, planning, prioritizing, focusing, points of view, and regulating emotions.

 Hoffert supports the new mental health law.

 “I think it’s great, I just wish they had it for educators as well,” Hoffert said. “I love how students can just get a break if they need one and come back better and ready to learn.” 

Hoffert said on average, a third of the students out of a population of 610 struggle with mental illness. The students who visit her often end up bringing up how COVID-19 affected them, their learning, and their home life.

The WTTW article introducing the new law states,  “It was pretty clear with the pandemic, the amount of pressure that was put upon our student population was showing very identifiable suicide rates amongst our children nationwide,” state Sen. Robert Martwick said. Martwick is a democrat who represents parts of Chicago’s Northwest Side and a sponsor of this bill. 

Shale Tandy, a senior who has periodically struggled with mental health, said he would spend his day meditating.

“I would spend my day meditating because a barrier is monophobia, silence is a problem,” Tandy said. “Put myself in a safe but silent environment. Also, reflect on past days.”

Tandy also offered this advice for how to focus on mental health: “Be somewhere where you can truly focus on yourself, and do whatever you feel like doing. Take away all stress for a day, focusing on yourself is not selfish, your well-being is a superpower.”

With this new law in act, U-High will follow its protocol and rules. According to principal Andrea Markert, the actual U-High protocol won’t change as of now.

The counseling center is always open, and someone is always available. Even if you don’t need to talk, it’s a quiet place to relax and take a breather. U-High has many resources available for any students who find themselves struggling with mental health this school year.