Mental HealthISU Students Lead Statewide Initiative to Improve Mental Health

ISU Students Lead Statewide Initiative to Improve Mental Health

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College students across Illinois may be able to take time off for mental wellness, and Illinois State University’s student government is spearheading the initiative to make it happen.

Student Body President Eduardo Monk said the idea is to give every college student in the state a handful of days designated for mental health. Each student can choose to take a day off when they need it most.

Mental health is unpredictable,” Monk said. “You don’t get to pick and choose which days your mental health is going to hold you back a little bit.”

The goal is to expand the state law, which provides five mental health days for K through 12 students statewide, to include universities. That’s outlined in a bill introduced by state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, in October, though ISU’s student government has been working on the initiative since last year.

Monk said he and others recognize there are still kinks to be worked out, as K-12 is “easier than higher ed.” In college, most classes meet two or three times a week, and some meet only once a week. There’s also the issue of exams and, depending on the major, labs or practical assessments.

“There’s going to be a lot of additional exceptions and accommodations that are going to be made within that,” Monk said.

Pilot Programs

Other schools are working together to see what might work. Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville is planning a pilot program for its version of mental health days.

SIUE and ISU are consulting with Northeastern University in Boston, which offers students two wellness days in the spring semester. Their program has been in place since 2022, although they advertise it as still in the pilot phase.

Northeastern prohibits students from using wellness days on exam days, called “blackout days.”

Isabella Pruitt, an executive board member of SIUE’s student government, said Edwardsville plans to use Northeastern’s framework. Ideally, students will be able to go to their portal and request days off.

She said SIUE’s program probably won’t be up and running until fall 2024, but conversations with the administration are ongoing. Overall, Pruitt said people are “generally supportive, just a little skeptical.”

“I think everyone recognizes the importance of mental health and student mental health, but I think the problem is that people don’t want to put in the effort to actually address these issues,” she said.

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