Photo by Alexandria Moore
A 2013 study conducted by the American Psychological Association concluded that 41% of college students suffered from anxiety and 36% suffered from depression. You might be surprised, or you might not be if you are one of the hundreds of thousands of college students suffering from a mental illness. The bottom line is this: there is a clear issue that is not being acknowledged.
Many college students suffering from a mental illness report having to miss class on at least one occasion due to mental health. These students also report feeling embarrassed and afraid to speak up about it. Overly strict college attendance policies do not help this problem.
Most universities across the country recognize and excuse absences for medical reasons, but they do not have a policy in place regarding absences involving mental health. A physical illness can be easily identified. It is hard to ignore a cold, a case of the flu or a sprained ankle. What is not so easy to identify is depression or anxiety. That is why these mental problems are so often cast aside when it comes to attendance policies.
A new law in Oregon might be challenging the lack of inclusion of mental health in attendance policies. Oregon will now allow students to take mental health days in just the same way they would take a sick day. Suicide is Oregon’s second leading cause of death in young people aged 10 to 34. The hope is that this new law might be able to relieve some of the stress put on students and eliminate feelings of embarrassment when it comes to speaking out about mental health.
Critics of the new law are afraid that some students would abuse the policy and fake having a mental illness as an excuse to miss more school. The unfortunate truth is that there are people that will always try to find a way to abuse the system. That being said, it is not fair to deprive a sick student of resources to help combat mental illness out of the fear that a few people might exploit the system.
The example that Oregon has set will hopefully encourage other states to follow suit and consider laws that would protect students who miss class because of legitimate mental health problems.
As a student myself, I can attest that strict attendance policies can cause anxiety and stress even if you do not have a mental illness. The attendance policies for many of my classes in the past stated that no absence will be excused without a doctor’s note. While it is understandable that professors must set attendance policies, I have never taken a class with an attendance policy that took mental illnesses into account.
Issues like this are always difficult. The fear that some will abuse the system is enough to make many hesitant to get on board with laws like the one passed in Oregon. What we have to ask ourselves is if it is worth letting a few dishonest people slip through the cracks in order to connect people that are mentally ill with the tools they need to succeed.