Oregon teens advocate for two bills supporting student mental health

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Oregon teens advocate for two bills supporting student mental health

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Most people have experienced their fair share of anxiety, depression or another form of mental illness. Those who have know how difficult it can be to go to school some days. It’s for that reason that students throughout Oregon are fighting for two new mental health bills to be passed on a state level.

The bills propose two different ways to address mental health issues among students. The first proposes that valid reasons for excused absences should be expanded to include mental health days. For students that are struggling with mental or behavioral health issues, the relief of being able to take a day off for these reasons can be huge. To students advocating for this bill, it is important that the attention paid to mental health is equivalent to that of physical health, as the two both can have immense impact on the ability of a student to learn, focus, and have an effective day at school.

The second bill establishes annual mental health checkups, similar to mandatory physical checkups. Unlike a cold, mental illness doesn’t present itself physically. It can be nearly impossible to notice anxiety or depression, which are extremely common. Specifically, 25 percent of teenagers have an anxiety disorder, and the numbers are only rising. The idea of a mental health wellness checkup addresses that 25 percent, and also could potentially diagnose more students who are silently suffering. However, according to Derek Evans, a student involved in the process, this bill has been set aside while the “mental health day” bill is being put at the forefront.

To get a more inside look at the process, The Wolf interviewed two students, Hailey Hardcastle and Derek Evans, students at Sandy and Sherwood high schools, who have worked closely with representatives and fellow students on these bills. The two discussed their inspiration for the bills and their hope for the impact of the potential changes.

Evans said the bill came to be after a large conversation about issues within schools with Oregon Association of Student Councils (OASC) leaders.

“The inspiration was mainly from all of us just wanting to keep our peers healthy and safe,” he said.

Hardcastle, former OASC student council president, mentioned personally knowing close friends who struggle with mental health issues and are not supported by schools.

Both Evans and Hardcastle hope that these two bills can make an impactful difference for students throughout the state.

“I hope that this bill can impact every student in Oregon because I know that everyone feels overwhelmed at some point in school,” Evans said. “The biggest impact that I want to see though, is a decrease in Oregon youth suicide rates.”

According to one KGW8 report, approximately “18 percent of 11th-graders statewide who took the Oregon Healthy Teens Survey in 2017 reported they had seriously considered suicide over the previous 12 months.”

Similar to Evans, Hardcastle believes, “these bills will have an enormous impact on students and they have the potential to literally save lives.”

Both students have similar hopes: to create a lasting impact on the mental health of students across the state. Evans made note that he hopes to see more bills written advocating for mental health support for students. Similarly, Hardcastle wants “students to have a more positive experience in school.”

With the potential that these bills hold, the future of mental health issues with students could be changing. Student advocates such as Evans and Hardcastle have put forth a lot of effort to change the daily lives of students.