Stop misusing mental health days

Helen Fagan

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Many NT students would agree that a New Trier Examiner issue exploring mental health would not be complete without discussing the infamous “mental health day.” Though not exclusively a New Trier phenomenon, these self-declared days off seem crucial to the academic success of Trevians, especially those in the trenches of the 2nd semester of junior year.

Though it remains the most pungent of clichés, I will say it anyway; mental health days are only effective in moderation.

It’s hard to achieve this best of both worlds of taking some time off, but not too much—however, if this balance is achieved, you will also have the most relaxing and productive life possible.

Although some use the phrase “mental health day” just to skip school, there are proven benefits to checking out of one’s daily routine.

CNN reported that taking a day off from work or school every once in a while reduces stress, increases productivity and focus and enables the individual to perform high level tasks more accurately. The report also said that these days are most successful in providing relief when they are planned in advance.

Of course, CNN was referring to the general phenomenon of the mental health day. At New Trier, though some may use their day off to unwind or catch up on work, the “mental health day” mostly serves as a way to stay home and watch Netflix or ditch a test you chose not to study for.

Mental health days are only effective when they’re needed. If taken once in a while, they are a great way to take a break from the craziness of life, center oneself, and do whatever one needs to do so that tomorrow he will be back on track.

But at New Trier, mental health days also seem only to be a code for ditching. They are taken too often to escape one’s obligations, not because these commitments are too much to handle, but because the student chooses not to handle them.

Of course this is not true in every case. But many times, the mental health day is used to ineffectively alleviate a larger problem—the student may be taking too many high level classes, involved in an astounding amount of extracurriculars, or overexerting himself socially at the expense of academics.

Mental health days can only be effective if they are a reasonable solution to the problem at hand. If missing school is simply putting a sheet over a gaping sinkhole of a larger issue, the mental health day  will not bring relief—just blissful ignorance.

Missing school to avoid something unsatisfactory—a test you don’t think you’ll do well on, a presentation you haven’t practiced—the mental health day might seem like a perfect solution. But coming from experience, an extra day rarely prepares me more for an assignment. I wake up in the morning, choose not to get ready for school, and instead of intensely using this newfound free time to become prepared for my test, I usually fall into the attractive trap of watching Shameless episodes on Netflix and getting only minimal work done.

Thus, missing school, unless done with intense dedication, puts one farther behind in his studies instead of getting ahead. So begins a vicious cycle of missing more and more days to make up for the work that could not be completed while at home. Before you know it, you are living two days behind—skipping the tests you have that day to make up the ones you missed a couple of days ago, and constantly living in a state of catch-up.

There’s no denying that being a student at New Trier requires a boatload of work. But instead of pushing off the mountain of assignments that continually builds, take it in stride.

It’s impossible to do everything at once, and don’t think that missing one day of school will somehow solve all of your problems. If it’s covering up poor academic habits or a larger issue, avoiding the problem by staying home from school will allow the issue to fester, not bring relief.

Sometimes, it’s best to take the L and accept defeat on a project or test. Go to school and own up to it. Take it as a chance to examine your life and study habits, and brainstorm what you can do to fly the W when the next hard calculus test rolls around.

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