By Liam I. Bouza
In 2018, Utah legislature passed a law that allowed students in middle school and high school to use mental health as a valid excuse for absences. These excused absences are being enforced at the secondary level in some schools within selected states, like Arizona, Illinois, Washington D. C., and Ohio.
The topic of mental health is a controversial one. According to The New York Times, there are concerns about whether students would benefit from mental health excused absences and how to establish the limitations of such a policy.
Despite these concerns, Barry students like freshman theatre major Janell Campbell believe that the mandate should cover a case-by-case method.
“The [mandate’s] limitations and regulations should be the same for everybody,” said Campbell. "[But] I think students should have their cases individually reviewed if need be.”
Another issue surrounding mental health is the tendency of popular culture to make it into a joke. Often, even people who suffer from mental health issues use comedy as a coping mechanism.
"We hear things like, ‘The weather is so bipolar today,’ and that's not okay,” said Valeria Vega, a senior music and theatre major. “It undermines the severity of the situation. It takes away the severity."
Vega also believes that culture impacts mental health. As a Cuban and Puerto Rican, her culture considers mental health as a “joke” and does not take it seriously.
“You [also] have the cultural impact that doesn't believe in [mental health]. You try to make yourself a priority, but there are things that you should do before you can work on yourself,” Vega said. “You can't think about yourself [within some cultures], especially your mental health.”
Mental health is a real issue which was exacerbated by the pandemic. According to The Kaiser Family Foundation, 1 in 4 adults suffer from some form of mental health issue as an implication of Covid-19.
Further, the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy notes that depression has about tripled in the U.S. since the pandemic began. A survey they conducted in August 2021 shows that 27.8 percent of adults reported depression symptoms, compared to 8.5 percent before the pandemic. Dr. Donna Thomas, professor in the history and political science department at Barry, believes mental health should be taken as seriously as when a student is physically ill. She believes both students and professors alike would benefit from recognizing how someone’s mental health might affect how they behave within the classroom.
“As with absences for physical illness, I personally think we should be as fair and understanding as possible with absences for mental health days,” said Thomas. “After all, this is very much in the Barry tradition of inclusivity and compassion.”
Vega agrees and believes this mandate should be applied in all educational environments, but especially here at Barry.
"[Professors] expect so much from us, and we understand that,” said Vega. “But we also have the world on our shoulders.”
Vega added that there should be a communication system between professors and students to help them understand their students and workload in a more accurate way.
Overall, a mental health mandate seems to be on the radar in the Barry community. “In many cases, a day away from the immediate pressures of life, along with counseling, can go a long way to bring a sense of stability and well-being,” said Thomas.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, these services are available to you:
· Barry’s Counseling Services: (305) 899-3950 · National Suicide Prevention Hotline: (800) 273-8255 · Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio: (888) 628-9454 · National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-7233 · Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline: (800) 662-4357 · National Sexual Assault Hotline: (800) 656-4673 · Crisis Text Line: text HOME to 741741