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Why 'Loose Women' Panelist's Opinion About Mental Health Days Is So Dangerous

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Sometimes the news isn’t as straightforward as it’s made to seem. Matt Sloan, The Mighty’s contributing editor, explains what to keep in mind if you see this topic or similar stories in your newsfeed. This is The Mighty Takeaway. 

If you don’t know anything about the U.K. daytime panel show “Loose Women,” it’s similar to “The View” in the U.S. — four female presenters discuss everything from the day’s big issues to celebrity gossip.

Last week, panelist Saira Khan shared her opinion about children taking mental health days, and many weren’t happy with what she had to say. After explaining that her children were likely to take advantage of mental health days (“My children are so clever, they would know how to manipulate.”) she said: 

I don’t want to underplay mental health, but personally, for me, I don’t think this is a good idea, because life is life, and we have to know how to cope with mental health in everyday life. You can’t just take time out from school, for example.”

Viewers expressed their disappointment with Khan’s views.

We may not like to think about it, but mental health struggles affect children as young as 3 years old. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), nearly 80,000 children and young people live with severe depression in the U.K., including over 8,000 children under the age of 10.

In the U.S., the National Survey of Children’s Health found one out of seven children aged 2 to 8 years had been diagnosed with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder. In children and young people between the ages of 3 and 17 years, researchers found that 6.8 percent had a current diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), 3 percent had a diagnosis of anxiety and 2.1 percent had depression.

A study of national trends in depression among adolescents and young adults published in the journal Pediatrics found that the prevalence of teens who reported a major depressive episode (MDE) in the previous 12 months jumped from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.5 percent in 2014 — a 37 percent increase.

So what do all of these numbers mean? First, we need to take children’s mental health seriously. Allowing them to have mental health days should be a part of that conversation. It’s important to talk to your child about what a “mental health day” means, why it is important and what they are used for. This way, if they need to take one, they’ll feel more comfortable asking for one.

Licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and author Amy Morin, echoed this idea in a piece for Psychology Today,

In my 15 years as a psychotherapist, I’ve encouraged a few parents to let their kids take an occasional mental health day from school. But I’ve also had to convince many other parents that their children’s mental health days were doing more harm than good.

Morin added it’s important to recognize when kids need to stay home for mental health reasons. Letting kids take a mental health day once or twice a year, she said, could reinforce how vital it is to take care of their minds as well as their bodies.

Parents also need to know how to talk to their kids about mental health. NICE suggests giving children and young people age-appropriate information so that they can understand mental health and their own diagnoses. lists a large number of ways to responsibly talk to children about depression, as well as how to adapt to a new diagnosis. “Short-term changes in the amount of schoolwork, chores, or activities may be needed … Your child is not making the symptoms up.”

It is on parents, like Khan, to trust and educate their children as to why mental health days are important and how to use them responsibly. If a child refuses to go to school, it may be more than the stereotyped idea of children not enjoying their time there. Don’t dismiss a child’s pleas. Look deeper.

Perhaps it would benefit parents like Khan to know how to determine if their child is struggling with a mental health issue. Resources are out there, like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America’s (ADAA) excellent list of common symptoms in children. Among the expected symptoms, such as an irritable mood, difficulty sleeping, mood swings and loss of energy, is the following, emphasis mine: “Change in grades, getting into trouble at school, or refusing to go to school.”

Taken together with other symptoms, a child requesting a mental health day may be a cry for help.

While Khan goes on to suggest that introducing children to meditation or talking to them, are important tools in the parental toolbox, she couples this with a continued refusal to believe that children should be allowed to stay home from school if they need to.

Mental health days are an important way of coping with the struggles of a mental illness. Dismissing a child’s request could be doing more harm than good.

Image via ITV/YouTube

Originally published: January 25, 2018
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