Mental health options remain a work in progress

Published 6:49 pm Friday, July 26, 2019

Students in Oregon can now take sick days not only for their physical health, but also for their mental health. I recently read about this new change in articles from both NPR and AP News.

Essentially, the new law makes it so mental/behavioral illness will be accepted among the reasons for school absences alongside physical illness, family illness, doctors’ appointments, and emergencies. The bill was approved after several young high school students came together to lobby for change in people’s response to mental health crises.

Both articles point out that the suicide rate in Oregon is up over the national average and has been for quite some time. Clearly, something needs to be done.

I know what skeptics out there might be thinking: “Oh no, an excuse for students to skip school and face no consequences.”

But consider for a moment something more positive. Consider that not all students are looking for a way to get out of doing schoolwork and taking tests. Sure, a few might be. But many more will probably see this is as a way to help improve their own mental health if they need it. We shouldn’t underestimate teenagers when it comes to these kinds of serious issues. They often have more understanding than we assume.

Some criticisms of the bill say it was unnecessary because students can just pretend, like before, to be sick to miss school. One of the young activists pointed out in response, however, that’s not the point of the bill. In her own words from the AP article: “Why should we encourage lying to our parents and teachers? Being open to adults about our mental health promotes positive dialogue that could help kids get the help they need.”

I absolutely agree, and I hope the bill opens the gateway for students in Oregon to start those positive dialogues.

Closer to home, I also recently read an article on WRAL’s website about a new mental health urgent care center open in Raleigh. It’s like any other urgent care center except the focus is on mental/behavioral health instead of physical ailments. Walk-ins are encouraged. They employ psychiatrists, therapists, and social workers trained to assist in numerous ways.

According to the article, the urgent care center is there to close the gap in providing care for mental health issues. Most of the time, patients must wait weeks or months to see a professional for help.

That amount of time isn’t helpful for someone facing a crisis. We wouldn’t wait weeks or months to see a doctor about a broken arm, right? Why should people wait that long to treat mental illness as well? Fact is, they shouldn’t have to wait that long. An “urgent care” center for mental health is a fantastic idea.

I think it’s great to see there are more people speaking out and more places offering help in regards to mental health. It remains an issue with a lot of stigma surrounding it that we must continue to break through in order to get better. And more people who aren’t suffering from mental health issues should step up to help.

The NPR article I read cited a study which shows the mental health of teens and young adults has been on a dramatic downward trend for at least the last decade. I’m willing to bet statistics for adults aren’t terribly encouraging either. This is an issue that we can’t keep sweeping under the rug.

It’s nice to see the different ways people in different parts of the country are doing something positive. But I hope we will also start to see more options for people right here in the Roanoke-Chowan area. We do have mental health services, and I encourage everyone to look into what’s offered locally, but expansion of those existing services could be very helpful, even life-saving.

If nothing else at least for now, we shouldn’t let the conversation fall silent.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.