SFU should follow in Oregon’s footsteps and grant mental health absences to students

Rising mental illness among youth needs to be addressed institutionally

Basic activities can be a struggle for students suffering from poor mental health. Photo: Dmitry Schemelev/Unsplash

By: Lubaba Mahmud, Staff Writer

For students suffering with mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, university — and life in general — can be extremely overwhelming. As someone with an anxiety disorder, there have been multiple days when I wished that time would just stop so that I could breathe for a minute. For students like myself who find they also need a much needed break, school-sponsored mental health days can help. 

A new state law passed in Oregon allows students “up to five excused absences within a three-month period” for mental health-related reasons. Rather than simply skipping school and potentially facing grade-lowering sanctions, students in Oregon now have the option to make up assignments at a later date. While students may use this as a free pass to cut class, it’s no different than cutting class on the pretext of physical illness — something students do now, anyway. 

BC should absolutely follow Oregon’s lead. Having the option to take an excused absence would mean that students wouldn’t have to drag themselves through an unproductive school day when their mental health is in a poor state.  As of 2016, 20% of post-secondary students in Canada deal with anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Students suffering from adverse mental health need to be assured that their struggles are taken just as seriously as coughs and fevers already are.

Studies have shown that pushing through classes when dealing with mental health concerns can be detrimental and in fact counterproductive. Everything needed for success at university, from energy to cognition, can be greatly decreased when students are not in the healthiest headspace. Decreases in performance due to the symptoms of poor mental health can lead to lower GPAs and subsequent decisions to drop out of school or take lengthy absences. In allowing sanctioned days off to recuperate their mental health, students may be able to avoid some of these hardships. 

Treating mental illnesses requires multiple supportive measures, and while current services like My SSP are appreciated, they are not enough to adequately address the issue for many students. It is necessary to take legislative steps in order to ensure their continued well-being. Taking care of students’ mental health is just as important as taking care of their physical health.  

However, it’s important for students to remember as well that these days off cannot act as a substitute for professional help if chronic mental health issues are interfering with their lives.