Mental health days off are vital

Oregon and Utah are the first two states to allow students to take mental health days off from school (“Oregon approves ‘mental health days’ for students,” New York Post, Jul. 22).  It’s about time in light of the high incidence of anxiety and depression among young people.

But I say that teachers also deserve the right to take days off for their mental health.  The incidence of burnout among teachers is alarming.  I don’t think that it existed nearly as much in the past because the pressure on teachers today is unprecedented.  As a result, teachers slowly develop all the signs and symptoms of burnout.  Even though burnout is a recognized clinical condition, there is still a stigma attached to those who ask for help.

I knew teachers at the high school where I taught for 28 years who turned to alcohol and other drugs to get through the year.  I wonder if they would have needed to do so if they had been able to take a few mental health days off.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

2 Replies to “Mental health days off are vital”

  1. I have no idea re how many annual leave days teachers usually get during the school year, if any. Not sure I see any advantage in creating a “mental health day” benefit separate from annual leave. Seems there would often be an implicit stigma attached to using “mental health days” — just give the teachers X number of annual leave days.

    The obvious problem with teacher annual leave days — whatever we call the leave — is the adverse impact on student learning when the teacher is absent, particularly on short notice and for only a day or two so that there is no opportunity for a substitute to implement effective instruction. This same concern applies to teacher sick days.

    Teaching is relatively unique among the professions in that it is virtually impossible to shift work from Day A to Day X. If an attorney is absent on Day 1 and does no work on Day 1, the attorney can usually make up the work that would have been done on Day 1 on some other day — even perhaps on a Saturday or Sunday or at night (except for court appearances, but they are only a small fraction of most attorneys’ work days). Same for architects, engineers, accountants.

    Doctors are somewhat like teachers in that patients with appointments on Day 1 sometimes cannot be moved to another day. But, doctors are unlike teachers in that, in most medical practices, there are other doctors who will fill in for the absent doctor and see the patients who must be seen on the absence day + those fill-in doctors will usually be just as competent as the absent doctor vis-a-vis treating the patient.

    In teaching, there usually are no other equally-competent teachers able to fill in for the absent teacher, at least not with regard to short-notice and one or two day absences. This is another aspect of the no-first-line-supervisors-for-teachers problem. In other professions, if work must be done on Day 1 and the professional who would normally do that work on Day 1 is suddenly absent, there is a supervisor-professional who is somewhat familiar with the work involved and who can fill in for the absent professional on Day 1. This is how law firms handle the situation when an attorney is absent on a court day.

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    1. Labor Lawyer: In the Los Angeles Unified School District, teachers were given 10 paid “sick days” off. Any days beyond that required a doctor’s note. Some mental health issues require protracted therapy sessions that cannot be scheduled after school is out. That’s why I think a case can be made for mental health days off to avoid teachers from being docked from their pay.

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