Oregon's suicide rate has outpaced the national average for the past three decades. In an effort to combat stigma around mental illness, four local teen activists took matters into their own hands and championed a proposed state law.
Oregon schools will now excuse student absences for mental or behavioral health reasons, as with regular sick days. In other words, if a student is feeling down, they can stay home from school without getting docked for missing classes.
The law, signed by Gov. Kate Brown last month, will take effect this coming school year and is widely believed to be one of the first of its kind in the country to treat physical and mental health equally.
"We're not talking about 'I just don't feel like going to school.,' We're talking about real disorders, real things that have real impacts," Chris Bouneff, the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Oregon, told NPR. "It's hard to address them systematically if they have to stay hidden because of stigma and prejudice and shame."
"You would have circumstances where students have a mental health disorder that impacts their ability to attend school at a given day but they would have to hide the reasons that generated their absences and you don't do that for any other health care condition," Bouneff said.
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