Price on Politics: Kentucky Public Schools’ Mental Health Bill

Megan+Fisher

Megan Fisher

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

Mental health is often something that is not discussed. It’s been stigmatized to discourage discussion. Many parents of my generation often dismiss mental health issues as being sad, down or just plain ungrateful.

In recent years, however, that stigma has begun to disappear, however slowly it may be happening. Politicians at every level of government are realizing the impacts of mental health issues on young people.

The Kentucky State House of Representatives has recently passed and sent to the Senate House Bill 44. If passed and signed by Governor Andy Beshear, the bill would allow K-12 public school students to have absences due to mental health status excused.

The bill was put forth by Representatives Bobby McCool of Paintsville and Lisa Wilner of Louisville. It was after the recommendation by high school students from the Commonwealth that the bill was passed by the House.

Upon the bill’s passing in the House, Representative Wilner put out a statement saying the following:

“I’m so proud of the students from across Kentucky who brought the idea forward to allow excused absences for student mental health days,” Wilner said. “This is their bill, and it makes explicit that mental health is health. I think that’s one of the important lessons the pandemic has taught us.”

The bill is a big step forward for mental health advocates in the Commonwealth. It not only legitimizes the mental health concerns voiced by young people and their parents but also shows the same young people that there are those in leadership that care about them and their concerns.

The youth are often overlooked when it comes to them speaking out about their health or other issues of the day. HB 44 legitimizes young people in the Commonwealth, showing them and other state leaders that young people truly have a stake in their present and their future.

HB 44 is a long needed step forward for the mental health of Kentucky’s K-12 students. It is time for colleges and universities like WKU to follow suit. While “excused absences” aren’t necessarily a thing after high school, mental health is no less important an issue.

Some professors encourage students in their syllabi and in class to “take a day” if anyone is in need of one. Others have strict attendance policies that don’t allow students breathing room.

This isn’t to say that WKU doesn’t have resources in place to help its students with their mental health issues. The Counseling Center in Potter Hall is a great resource for students who need it.

Not all feel comfortable taking advantage of this or other resources.

Universities enacting policies that allow mental health days to be taken would help students when they need it the most. College is stressful on all those involved, and sometimes a break is exactly what is needed for students to get back on track.

Colleges and universities could also add more days off throughout the semester. Even just three-day weekends would allow students to recharge in a way that some weekends don’t allow them to properly do. The six days off in the fall and the week-long Spring Break in the spring aren’t always enough. While the fall’s days off are spread out, the spring semester is broken up into two marathons with only weekends off.

I understand that a 16 week semester doesn’t always allow for much room and maneuverability in the schedule. Professors are under enough pressure as it is to teach what needs to be taught. In order to get it all in, not a lot of class can be missed. There isn’t much time to catch up.

Mental health issues can impact students in countless ways. 64% of students who dropout of college do so because of mental health issues. 54% believe the ongoing pandemic has impacted their mental health. In the fall of 2019, 35.7% of college students suffered from depression. The list goes on.

It’s in the best interest of all students and professors, however, to allow mental health days to be taken and/or to allow extra days off or long weekends throughout the semester. It takes a lot of effort for students to juggle school, work and their social lives while keeping a good head on their shoulders. The struggle causes many students to fall behind, stress and get burnt out. Days to relax, get caught up and refocus are exactly what many–if not all–students could use.

The passing of HB 44 in the Kentucky House is a start, but if colleges and universities are to provide the same amount of care to their students, they must take action, too. Students spend four years on campus. It must be a place that feels like home where they want to be, not a school where they’re stuck in a constant cycle of struggle and depression.

WKU can be a start. It can be a model to the Commonwealth’s public and private postsecondary education institutions. 

WKU prides itself on getting its students to the top–to complete their “ascent to greatness.” It’s time they add another resource to use to make the climb just that much easier.

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.