Allowing students to skip school when they feel the need for a mental health holiday is an emerging trend across a number of states throughout the country.

The idea is to let kids forgo schooling in order to rest and recreate if they feel stressed out, anxious or mentally tired.

This idea caught the attention of the Anchorage School District’s Student Advisory Board, which gives middle and high school students a way to petition school board members on various issues. The youth are now working on a proposal that would give area students the option of taking mental health holidays when they feel out of sorts.

Comprised of youth from various schools throughout Anchorage, the student board meets monthly with adult advisers who coordinate and oversee the gatherings. Once students pass a resolution, they forward it to the school board for consideration.

The mental health holiday idea surfaced at the Dec. 5 school board meeting when Student Advisory Member Ellie Shaw announced that the Student Advisory Board held a meeting on Nov. 13 in which it worked on a resolution titled, “Implementing a mental health day policy in ASD.”

Shaw didn’t go into the details of the proposed policy, but said there was “much discussion” on the topic, which will be taken up at the next student meeting – set for January.

“If a week of vacation does little for adults, how would a day left home alone to ruminate precipitate any meaningful change in a child’s mental state?”

According to the Child Mind Institute, a nonprofit specializing in kids’ mental health, a mental health holiday can be used however students and parents deem appropriate.

Allowable reasons for taking a holiday might include relationship struggles, performance pressure, family trauma or any number of existing “mental health conditions.”

In 2018, Utah became one of the first states to approve mental health holidays. About a dozen states have followed suit as school districts increasingly emphasize mental health in curriculum, activities and official policies.

 This is seen as a positive development according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which supports mental health holidays for all students.

“Some students may not necessarily have a mental health condition but are having a challenging day or week where their mental health is suffering,” the organization’s website states. “Taking a sick day to manage one’s mental health shouldn’t be rare — it should be encouraged, without fear of stigma or discrimination.”

But mental health holidays are not without critics.

Writing in the National Review, Daniel Buck noted that there is little evidence mental health holidays provide any long-term benefits.

“Districts propose wellness days, ignore the causes of a ‘mental-health crisis’ among teenagers, and call it a solution.”

He observed that extended vacations for adults provide some benefit for an employee’s state of mind, but surveys find that these benefits are short lived.

“A trip to a beach might be enjoyable but does little when an employee returns to the humdrum of life,” Buck observed. “If a week of vacation does little for adults, how would a day left home alone to ruminate precipitate any meaningful change in a child’s mental state?”

Buck also cautioned against pathologizing “normal stressors and anxieties of day-to-day life.”

“If anything, as continuing a limp to avoid pain might cause more holistic bodily harm in the long run, ‘mental-health days’ could alleviate immediate distress but facilitate habits that only worsen anxiety and depression in the long run,” he said.

Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukainoff, authors of  “The Coddling of the American Mind,” had similar warnings, Buck noted

“If you want to help someone with an anxiety or fear, avoidance will only worsen the problem,” he noted.  They use an elevator phobia as an example. If you want such a person to maintain their fear for life, keep them away from elevators. If you want them to conquer that fear, expose them to it until they develop resilience.”

Buck’s article suggested that the answer to mental stress will only be found in addressing the root causes, and by helping students form beneficial personal disciplines.

He also raised concerns about the harmful mental effects of social media addiction among youth, as detailed in 2017 The Atlantic article by Julia Twenge.

“In place of a Band-Aid such as mental-health days, what if adults took cellphone and social-media addictions seriously?,” Buck argued. “Districts propose wellness days, ignore the causes of a ‘mental-health crisis’ among teenagers, and call it a solution.”

Buck ends his article by challenging schools to impart “habits of virtue,” which will enable them to face life’s inevitable difficulties.

“And these would include habits of emotional awareness such as regular reflection, discussions with loved ones, or planned, appropriately timed days of rest,” he concluded.

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Should Anchorage students get to skip school for ‘mental health’ holidays?

Joel Davidson
Joel is Editor-in-Chief of the Alaska Watchman. Joel is an award winning journalist and has been reporting for over 24 years, He is a proud father of 8 children, and lives in Palmer, Alaska.