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Giving Kids 'Mental Health Days' Could Help Their Emotional Well-Being

A National Alliance on Mental Illness poll found 1 in 6 teens report feeling negative emotions often or always. Some parents are taking action.
Posted at 7:32 PM, Oct 20, 2022

Everybody needs a little time away, including young people.

Mom of four Melissa Bradley says she started giving her kids a day off school — not a sick day, but a self-care day.

"If you're home for a mental health day, it's not just to be home playing on your phone or your computer," Bradley said. "It's to be home, to reset, to step back from everything and get yourself straight for the next day."

Bradley started the practice after noticing changes in her eldest son.

"He was about 8 or 9 and started showing signs of depression and anxiety," Bradley said. 

She's not alone in this practice.

According to a recent study from Very Well Mind, 88% of parents have either allowed for mental health days or would consider them. The study also shows 60% of parents say their kids' mental health has been at least somewhat impacted by the pandemic.

However, the growing mental health crisis didn't start there.  

"Bullying has always been an issue, but I think now in the age of social media and technology that we also need to be mindful about sort of bullying all technology," said Dr. Erlanger Turner, psychologist and founder of Therapy for Black Kids.

There's also academic pressures, and while kids may not explicitly articulate the need for a break, experts say there are signs.

"Parents can look out for things, like kids mentioning or talking about how drained they feel or that they're so exhausted," said Alnardo Martinez, mental health counselor for the Child Mind Institute.

Mental health days can be a response to certain behavior or planned in advance, maybe after a big project or finals.

While beneficial, experts say there are a few best practices.

"It's not a day where they're in bed, scrolling on social media or sitting in front of the TV all day," Martinez said. "It should incorporate things that are actually beneficial for mental health."

That includes taking exercise, meditation, yoga, baking, art, listening to music and more.

For parents who can't take days off, experts encourage leaning into those same practices on weekends or off days.

They also say it's also important to recognize prolonged changes in behavior, eating or sleeping patterns and seek help.

Bradley says in their case, the mental health days are used along with mental health professionals.

"There's a lot these days that they can't handle behind the scenes," Bradley said. "When it gets to the point where he just completely shuts down and disconnects from reality, then I know that we need an intervention professionally."

Experts say a mental health day shouldn't be used to avoid things like tests or projects and that the key is to balance the line between just needing a day to recoup versus needing the help of mental health professionals.