The new year brings mental health days to Illinois schools


Illinois students are now able to take up to five mental health days off of school. Photo courtesy of Healthy Minds Network on Twitter

Haley Maser, Editor-in-Chief

A new Illinois law in effect since January 1 allows students up to five mental health days off school. Signed by Governor J.B. Pritzker, the legislation allows six to 17-year-old public school students to utilize these days without the need for a doctor’s note.

The bill, originally passed last fall, ensures students are given time to make up missed work. It also suggests students be referred to the appropriate personnel after their second mental health day for additional support. 

The JTHS district has established a new attendance code for mental and behavioral health-related absences. Due to the law only recently taking effect, administrators have not been able to track the full effect of this legislation. However, according to Brett Marcum, the Director of Student Support Services, few students who have been called out of school have reported this reason.

“I do believe that explicitly stating that students can be excused due to mental health is beneficial for students,” explains Mr. Marcum. “Regular and consistent attendance is absolutely crucial to successful academic performance and it is important not to lose sight of that fact. With that said, I believe students need to be ready to function at their best when they are in school and students using these days responsibly and when needed may help ease the anxiety students feel about school.”

A presentation given by Mr. Marcum and Dr. Iman Ellis-Bowen at the January 18 school board meeting reports 73 instances of suicidal ideation and 222 behavioral referrals within the district. Additionally, the data from last fall shows 147 office-related referrals concerning substance abuse and 58 threat assessments. 

The purpose of mental health days is to potentially curb these statistics across Illinois. “There is an unfortunate stigma attached to mental health in our society and I hope that this legislation helps us all feel more comfortable with accepting the importance of caring for our mental and emotional well-being,” asserts Mr. Marcum.

Along with the statewide legislation, Marcum and Ellis-Bowen’s presentation offers additional ways for the district to provide aid for students. The proposed programs include Care Solace, Linden Oaks Behavioral Health, and Restoring the Spirit, which could connect JTHS families with clinical professionals and treatment plans.