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Should You Let Children Skip School for Mental Health Reasons?

Updated
Mind It
5 min read
Should You Let Children Skip School for Mental Health Reasons?

Your alarm goes off, you roll out of bed, and you're on your way to wake up your child on the right side of things.

You realise that it's not your child's every day reluctance to get out of the comfort of the bed, but he/she actually has a fever. You wouldn't think twice before asking them to take a day off, right?

What if your child told you that he/she needs to stay home just to take a break from their routine, or because they feel stressed or anxious?

In the pre-pandemic world, it wasn't every day we heard about 'mental health days'. Even when we did, it was mostly used for adults – a day to destress, to sleep in, or to stay away from work because you feel like it.

But COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the world's hidden mental health pandemic, it has given the conversations around mental health the long-needed push and a renewed focus.

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The sudden disruption in livelihoods, health, socialisation has triggered a worldwide mental health crisis not just in adults. Children have especially had a hard time coping during the pandemic, too.

Pre-Covid or post-Covid, should you allow your kids to skip school for mental health reasons? It's not a simple yes or no, experts say.

Recognise ‘Genuine Needs’ Over Escapist Behaviour

"It is very important for schools as well as parents to understand the genuine needs of mental health issues," Dr Vohra says. 

(Photo: Arnica Kala/FIT)

"The whole paradigm of mental health has shifted from the pre-pandemic to post-pandemic days. It’s important for stakeholders to understand that mental health issues are faced by most children," Dr Sandeep Vohra, Psychiatrist at at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in Delhi, says.

Geeta (name changed) has an unruly teenager, who doesn't study well and is regularly at odds with her.

"I wouldn't believe if my son says he wants to take a day off because he's not alright mentally," she says.

"It is very important for schools as well as parents to understand the genuine needs of mental health issues," Dr Vohra says.

"Genuine needs" – that's what Dr Vohra stresses on.

What this means is that an adult would be able to see the good and bad, or understand the reason for stress. But for a child, we cannot be sure whether it is a genuine problem or he/she is reacting to some environment or trying to avoid something.

For this, professional analysis is important, he says.

"Because in some cases, it could lead to an escapist behaviour from the child’s perspective, or undue advantage might be taken."

"If it's a fever or a cold, you'd need rest or a paracetamol. But when we're talking about emotional health, then the diagnosis becomes very difficult," Dr Naznin M.A Chimthanawala, a Clinical Psychotherapist, says.

"The parameters of gauging them are obscure. So, it should not be used as an excuse."

Returning to School With Mental Health Woes

Daksh Sehgal, who is in his 11th, says that the past year and a half has been depressing for him, locked up inside the house, unable to meet his friends or play any sport.

"Schools should conduct workshops and teach students to cope with mental health issues. In a country like India, mental health issues are not taken seriously," Daksh says.

"I've spent the entire one and a half year at home. It has changed me as a person. I was an extrovert and now I don't feel like socializing anymore," Shreya, who is in her 10th, says.

"I started thinking how am I going to talk to my peers and answer questions. I was stuttering while talking to my teachers. I was so scared," Shreya says.

Even though there are sessions on mental health at Shreya's school, she feels the teachers are not equipped enough to understand their issues. "They tell us things like not to cry. Why should I not cry?" she says.

"My parents don't understand mental health well either. Even if I'm not feeling okay, I can't open up to them. But a mental health day once in a while would be really useful," she adds.

How To Know if Your Child Needs a Mental Health Day

How do you recognise "genuine needs" of the students and provide support?

(Illustration: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

But how do you recognise "genuine needs" of the students? Where do you draw the line? It's a grey area.

Most schools have an annual health checkup, where the A-Z of your well-being, from weight to eyesight to everything else is checked and noted. Why not have mental health screening too, says Dr Vohra.

"There should be mental health screening of emotional wellness of all students. It should become mandatory like other health screening annually," he says.

"What are the issues that they're facing? Parents and caretakers need to understand what the child is going through, what exactly the problem is and how they are processing it," Dr Naznin says.

So, if a student comes up with mental health concern, instead of blindly giving an off, this is what should be done, according to Dr Vohra:

  • Parent/teacher should have a dialogue with the child

  • Try to understand the issues

  • See what can be addressed

  • If it can't be addressed, seek professional help

"If the problem the child is talking about does not match with the intensity of his feeling, then the best way would be to engage a mental health professional," Dr Vohra suggests.

Whatever measures the school has to offer, has to pass through a mental health professional.

"Only those children who genuinely have issues should get a break. The break will depend on the degree of severity," he adds.

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But Several states in the US have recently passed bills that allow students to skip school to take care of their mental health, looking a worsening depression and suicide rates among children.

From broadening the definition of valid excuse for a student's absence to providing services, mental health days are becoming a reality in the US. Most of these efforts have been spearheaded by students.

But we have a long way to go in order to understand the nuances of mental health among children.

Why would a child need a mental health day from school? Should an occasional mental health day reinforce the importance of taking care of their minds? Even if it's not genuine, should they take an off? How should mental health days look like?

There are a lot of questions we need to mull over.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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