Student Mental Health Accommodations: We Need More


Arielle Levine

Highlight mental health every year, make mental health days excused absences, and offer parent seminars on mental health. It is that easy.

It should come as no surprise to the Howard County Public School System that many teenagers are struggling with their mental health. From the ongoing pandemic to virtual learning to the constantly evolving world of social media, students are facing challenges nobody knows how to solve.

There are always going to be ways in which every school system can improve advocacy for their students’ mental health, even here in Howard County. Specifically, three programs or changes stood out to me that HCPSS could implement. I believe that introducing even one of these programs within the county can easily make a difference for all students.

According to the CDC, more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime. When thinking about students and their mental health, HCPSS should take this statistic into consideration and question, “How can we support this 50%?” 

It is far from impossible for HCPSS to implement programs to inform students and their parents/guardians about mental health. These programs should highlight how to recognize when a student is struggling, learning how and where to seek the proper support and care, and moving towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental health. 


1. Make it mandatory for every student to sit in on lessons about mental health every year incorporated into their health class curriculum.


To graduate high school, every Howard County student is required to take a health class in grades fifth through ninth. The required half-credit class in high school and a handful of lessons on mental health in the years prior are not enough to inform students adequately on mental health topics as well as offer the needed support. 

The world has created a stigma surrounding mental health and related illnesses. Suppose mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, and suicide are talked about enough in a typical setting, such as a classroom. We might start to see that stigma fade, and students who struggle with their mental health may begin to feel comfortable advocating for what they need.

If students do not learn to properly deal with their mental health and mental illnesses, they may not be able to recognize the warning signs or patterns that could easily lead to worse things. In 2018, 13.64% of teens in Maryland turned to drug and alcohol abuse as a coping mechanism. HCPSS, do you really want this to happen for your students?

It is unfair to assume that students pick up information on these topics the first time they hear about them and are informed enough to take action. Hearing the information yearly will help the students retain this information and use it for life beyond high school. 

I would like to see these topics highlighted every year of high school for every student.


2. Make mental health days excused absences.

Howard County Public School System “grants students a maximum of three (3) excused absences per school year when the absence is pre-arranged with the principal and teachers.” When an excused absence is taken, the student may make up work missed due to an excused absence and receive a grade in the grade book. 

If students are permitted to take an excused absence for the flu or strep throat, why can’t they use one of their excused absences for a mental health day? 

Mental health plays a huge part in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. According to a study done by Hillside Mental Health Services in 2019, poor mental health can suppress a person’s immune system, leading to intense fatigue. Additionally, and more seriously, according to a study done by The Canadian Mental Health Association, poor mental health puts people at risk for chronic physical conditions. 

In some cases, individuals are not mentally stable enough to take care of their physical health, which can lead to a lack of exercise and proper nutrition and can eventually lead to serve issues like cardiovascular and respiratory disease.

Howard County wouldn’t be the first school system to implement this. School districts in Oregon, Utah, as well as the Montgomery County School district in Virginia are granting excused absences to students for mental health reasons.

Oregon’s goal in implementing the policy that mental health days can be used as an excused absence is to combat high suicide rates among teens. According to the CDC, suicide rates in teens tripled between 2007 and 2017. According to data from the Howard County Health Department, in 2016, 1 in 6 HCPSS high school students seriously considered attempting suicide. 

HCPSS could be a part of this change to reduce the suicide rate, too, by allowing mental health days as excused absences. HCPSS can save lives. 


3. Offer parent seminars on mental health.

Students who struggle with their mental health need a support system, and in most cases, one of the most pivotal members of that support system are parents or guardians. 

HCPSS should implement quarterly seminars for parents on topics revolving around mental health and how to support their child. 

If parents are not educated in these topics, they will not be able to recognize negative patterns in their child’s mental health and then take action to help and provide them with the proper resources and support they need. 

In 2019, 15.8% of Marylanders were told by a medical professional that they have depression. 

HCPSS, you can provide the needed resources to assist your part of that 15.8%.

Offering these seminars will also help bridge a generation gap when it comes to topics like mental health. Parents may not have received an education that involved lessons on mental health that can easily apply to today’s technology and social media-filled world. 

Parents sincerely want to help and support their kids, yet they may not know which resources to turn to regarding mental health. HCPSS, this is your time to shine and offer these seminars to support your community. 

Howard County Public School System, I implore you to take these ideas into consideration to improve your accommodations, which will ultimately benefit your students for the greater good of their mental health.