By Ingrid Chang and Jordan Freisleben
On a Tuesday morning, Leah* â11 called in sick for the day. However, it wasnât a fever that was plaguing her, but rather the stress of junior year. She proceeded to spend the day catching up on sleep, relaxing and getting ahead on homework.
For Leah, mental health days are necessities to deal with the demands of school.
“It releases pressure,” she said. “Sometimes you need the extra time to catch up on sleep and work. If youâre really stressed at school, you wonât be able to focus.”
Stress makes it hard for students to perform their best in school, school psychologist Sheila Siegel said.
“I think they need breaks, and when a break comes, they need it to be a real break,” she said. “When you take an honest break, you come back refreshed, with more energy to focus.”
However, Siegelâs idea of a break may differ from the ways that students spend their days off. She considers a break a day to recuperate.
“I think kids often take mental health days to finish a paper, so itâs not like theyâre just relaxing. Thatâs a big difference,” Siegel said. “You only go to school for about 158 days a year, so it isnât exactly overtaxing. But that said, sometimes people need a break.”
The administration is not oblivious to the fact that students take mental health days, even if the students try to conceal them by faking illness.
“You sense it, you know it happens,” Attendance Coordinator J. Gabriel Preciado said. “Occasionally if a student is exhausted and they let me know, it depends on what they say. We encourage them to tell us what the truth of the matter is so we can at least work with them.”
Leah believes that being overstressed is an adequate excuse to miss a day of school.
“[Stress] is an actual issue that psychologists study,” she said.
“Mental health is just as important as physical health,” counselor and humanities teacher Luba Bek said. “Iâm a little bit biased as a mental health professional. But I do think that if a student is really stressed out or has a quote-unquote meltdown or is losing it, I think being at school is not a good idea.”
To Bek, a truly overstressed student coming to school could be just as detrimental to others as a sick student would be.
“Itâs just as important to take a day off for mental health as it is if you had the flu, even if itâs not contagious,” she said. “It could even be a difficult thing for people to be around,” she said.
Carter* â11 agrees with this sentiment. He thinks that the administration should give more consideration to the mental health of students.
“There should be allotted mental health days for students,” he said. “It would be truly beneficial to the mental health of student body,” he said. “It might even improve your grades because you wonât be as stressed.”
Although Bek thinks alotting mental health days would be a good idea, she said it would be problematic for the school to implement it.
“Logistically it probably would be a nightmare to figure out how many days the student has taken, whether they were really stressed out or if they were taking the time to write a paper,” Bek said.
“But I know that students in general are really reluctant to miss school because of the amount of work, so if a kid wants to take a day off because he or she cannot handle it, then Iâm all for it.”
Although teachers generally discourage taking days off unless a student is sick, history teacher Leslie Rockenbach feels otherwise.
“Well, itâs a slippery slope,” she said. “I think that for the majority of students at Harvard-Westlake, I think you guys work really hard, youâre totally over-stressed. I think taking a day to yourself is a great idea, I do.”
*Names have been changed