EAST MOLINE, Ill. — A new law that goes into effect January 1st, 2022 will give Illinois students five mental health days to use throughout the year without a doctor's note. It comes after a particularly taxing year for mental health.
According to the CDC, mental health-related visits increased by 24% for children aged 5 through 11 in 2020 compared to 2019. Visits increased 31% for kids aged 12 to 17.
This new bill aims at drawing attention to the discussion around mental health while helping kids seek out help if they need it. Brandon Kutmas is a mental health counselor with Quad City Behavioral Health Associates.
"Kids have to know that when they say something to their parents, as far as like communicating a need, like I need time off, or I need a break. If the kid feels listened to or heard, they're gonna trust that parent," Kutmas said. "Then in the future if something bigger arises they'll be comfortable enough to go to them."
Kutmas says another big issue that is currently at play is the financial burden of needing a doctors note for a mental health day. This new law eliminates that problem.
"If it's going to cost a lot of people money that they don't have, they just don't take the time off. And then the kids get burned out and stressed out," Kutmas said.
It's a move in the right direction for Kevin Atwood. Atwood founded Foster's Voice back in 2017 after his son (Foster) died by suicide.
Foster Atwood was 19-years-old at the time.
"He was the class clown. He was extremely intelligent, he was extremely popular. There were people around him at all times. He was just surrounded by people and nobody knew," Atwood said.
Foster's Voice is a charity that focuses on spreading awareness about suicide awareness. This new law aligns with Atwood's mission.
"In the past, you know, what, if you're having a hard day, and you're physically okay, then you still need to come to school," Atwood said. "Well, now we're saying hey, we understand that you're stressed, that maybe depression is really low, you need a day to gather yourself, and we're encouraging them to talk about it."
The law also requires a school counselor to check in with a student after their second mental health day. Kutmas sees this as a crucial step.
"The school can learn what the specific child's needs are. And they might be able to provide some sort of intervention that would alleviate the need to take further mental health days," Kutmas said.
For Atwood, it's a step in the right direction.
"We'll keep pushing legislation. They work for us," says Atwood, "So let's make them do what they're supposed to do, and keep fighting for what we want."