Self-care is the new normal

With the passage of California Senate Bill 14 in October last year, which allows students to take time off school for mental or behavioral health concerns, it’s a surprise how little the policy has been promoted for students at Diamond Bar High School over the past year.

As a school that prides itself on its advocacy on mental health—shown through services such as peer counseling and the Wellness Center—the school administration should absolutely be promoting this new policy to its students since many of them likely aren’t aware of it. The school should consistently notify students of the right they have to take time off for mental health concerns and encourage them to do so if needed.

The right to take these breaks is something that is advantageous and necessary for students, especially during times of high stress. As students approach finals week and seniors approach the peak of their college application season, high levels of mental fatigue are to be expected from students. It seems counterproductive for the students if the school forces them to take unexcused time off due to lack of knowledge about the rights that they have.

At the same time, the policy signed by Gov. Newsom hasn’t been without public scrutiny—opponents of the legislation argue that students may take advantage of the system, claiming to be in need of a mental health day when in reality, they’re skipping school for mere leisure. However, this shouldn’t be the pressing issue that prevents schools from helping the mental health of students. 

For instance, the policy can be limited to a certain number of days, such as Illinois’ version of the bill, which limits student’s mental health absences to five days each year. Furthermore, the problem of taking advantage of the system is an issue that has always existed for students—they can always feign physical illness, especially due to the circumstances of the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the school from excusing those sick absences. Finally, the benefits of such a policy outweigh the potential harm of students abusing the system, since the well-being of students far outweighs the risk that a few students will miss some school and have their absences excused.

Without promotion of such a policy, students will continue to be discouraged from taking mental breaks due to fear of unexcused absences, which could translate to worse grades and even more stress. It’ll also further the negative stigma that surrounds mental health by having students lie about the reasons for their absences, instead of normalizing conversations surrounding the serious issue. Additionally, students who truly need days off will inevitably take absences from schools—it’s just a question of whether or not they know about the new policies to excuse their absences and remove an extra source of stress. 

Whatever the case is, unfortunately, mental health issues are here to stay. As students approach the stressful stages of high school, DBHS should be transparent in the rights that students are allowed to have in regard to excused absences.