On Dec. 10th, Student Board Member, Isa Sheikh, championed a new policy that allows students to take excused absences for mental health reasons. He hopes this change will alleviate some of the pressures put on by the pandemic and destigmatize mental health within the Sacramento City Unified School District.
In Sacramento, students may be excused from school for health reasons; however, those reasons have previously only been in regard to physical health.
“That’s a very outdated way of looking at health” Sheikh said. “Every single year, we are coming closer to the idea that mental health and physical health harm are in parody.” Resolution No. 3175’s purpose is to recognize mental health as a valid reason for an absence as well.
Sacramento has been overdue for this type for change. A California Healthy Kids Survey of SCUSD students from 2011-2013 concluded that one in five students have seriously considered suicide within the past twelve months. Another survey by the Mental Health Services and Oversight and Accountability Commission in 2019 showed that nine in ten Californian teens believe mental health should be a priority.
Now, as COVID-19 surges and more of our lives are shifting online, students are met with new challenges. Surveys conducted by citiesRISE in April demonstrated that over half of students in Sacramento desire some form of mental health support as a result of the pandemic but are unsure where to turn.
“We’ve definitely seen that with school closures, isolation, and all the screen time that there have been rising rates of anxiety, depression, and feelings of hopelessness among students. And that is coupled with not only a global pandemic but also economic challenges and issues around race that have been coming up in our country recently” explained citiesRISE mental health advocate, Lian Zeitz.
Shiekh hopes that in addition to easing some of the stress brought on by the pandemic, this resolution will also destigmatize mental health in schools.
“It’s not going to fix everything, but it’s a good step to have everyone understand that mental health is just as legitimate as physical health and that everyone faces these challenges,” he explained.
While some may think this policy will lead to more absences, Zeitz believes it may lead to the exact opposite. Students are already missing classes due to mental health reasons. Recognizing these reasons may just make students feel better supported at their school.
“One of the things that we’re seeing is that when school environments become more welcoming, more mentally healthy, friendly places, students would be less inclined to not be there. Some of the draws that may take a student away from the school may not anymore, if it’s a place that supports mental health and wellbeing and is inclusive and is safe,” Zeitz says.
Perhaps this initiative by SCUSD is the start of a big change the students have been waiting for.