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Expert explains benefits of "mental health days" for students returning to school

Posted at 10:21 AM, Aug 16, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah kids head back to the classroom, mental health experts say parents should be aware of the benefits of a "mental health day" and how to effectively use them.

Just last year, Utah Governor Spencer Cox signed a bill into law that allows students under the age of 18 to use their mental health as a valid excuse to be absent from school.

Silas, a third grader at a new school this fall recently moved to Utah from Texas and his parents say they're glad their son has the opportunity to take a day off for mental health is he needs one.

"Him making new friends and that sort of thing can be overwhelming," said Colton Hernandez.

Licensed psychologist Dr. Douglas Goldsmith says these days off for mental health should not be treated like sick days.

"If it's a mental health day, how are you using this to calm down, get less stressed, and be ready for tomorrow?" Dr. Goldsmith asked. "That needs to be planned out."

Dr. Goldsmith says kids should be catching up on mindfulness, eating balanced meals, maybe getting a little sleep and doing physical activity is absolutely critical.

He also said taking more than one day off turns into a vacation, which won't solve any problems in the long run.

Some apps Dr. Goldsmith recommended for mindfulness practices are "smiling mind" and "calm."

The goal of a mental health day, Dr. Goldsmith explained, is to help students get through difficult times in a comforting way so they're able to manage anxiety in the future.

Sometimes a day off is only a short-term fix and children may need longer-term support. If that's the case, Goldsmith recommends that parents ask for help from the school or mental health experts.