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SSM Health expert supports legislation allowing mental health absences for Illinois students

Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law last month allowing public school students ages 6-17 to have 5 mental health days from school.

ILLINOIS, USA — To say living through a pandemic has been hard, would be a huge understatement, and one group it's really taking a toll on is our children.

The state of Illinois is doing something about it. 

There's a new law, giving students five mental health breaks from school per year.    

"We don't normalize the mental health days enough. As a society, we don't do a good job of saying that's okay. It's alright for you to feel this way," Director of Central Intake for SSM Behavioral Health Amy Konsewicz said.

She sees trends with the pandemic's effect on young people's mental health.

"We have seen almost a 50% increase in children and adolescence presenting for mental health services to our various SSM programs," Konsewicz said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last Fall that mental health-related emergency room visits among children increased by 24% for ages of 5 to 11 and 31% for ages 12 to 17 since the start of the pandemic in April of 2020, compared to 2019.

"Children are nervous and they are increasingly anxious about all of the changes that are going," Konsewicz said.

She fully supports the State of Illinois' decision to allow public school students ages 6-17, five excused mental health absences from school without needing a doctor's note.

"It's teaching them to assess these symptoms in real-time versus waiting maybe years until they're experiencing a major depressive episode or a severe anxiety attack," Konsewicz said.

Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill into law last month and will go into effect in January.

"To me it's the state of Illinois saying, you know we support you caregivers and children, and we recognize that this is something that we need to integrate into our school year so we can give you that social-emotional learning opportunity," Konsewicz said.

Students who take more than two of those approved mental health days should be referred to extra school support services.

Students will be able to make up any missed work during their excused absences.