Recently, legislation was introduced into the New York State Senate that would allow public school students to take days off for their mental health. If the bill is passed, the State Education Department is responsible for implementing this change, which allows students to claim mental health reasons for absence from school. The bill is limited to public school minors and it is heartening that some efforts have been made by New York’s government to recognize the need for proper mental health care starting at a young age. It is now time for private universities like NYU to follow suit.
Currently, NYU’s policy for excused absences is largely in the hands of professors. Most classes allow a certain number of days off, provided the student is able to produce medical notes as proof. Students can also seek religious exemptions. Otherwise, students are expected to attend class without exception, unless professors have their own policies. If NYU adopted a similar policy to New York state, it would allow students to take a day or two off without requiring a medical note that claims they suffered from a panic attack or a bad bout of anxiety, for example. This would make strides for students who deal with mental health issues that are hard to diagnose or don’t require a visit to the doctor. Some downtime to rejuvenate could make a world of difference in a student’s quality of life.
As mental health is brought to the forefront of conversations on campus, it’s important that NYU’s policies are constantly evolving to match students’ needs. Simply putting up flyers or setting up unprofessional chat services is not enough; NYU needs to implement change by allowing students to take a leave of absence for genuine mental health concerns. Mental health disorders like anxiety are frighteningly common; the Anxiety and Depression Association of America claims that anxiety affects 18.1% of the population every year. In a school as competitive as NYU, where 55% of students report that they have dealt with anxiety and 59% report symptoms of depression, better mental health care is more crucial than ever. I read about heartbreaking student suicides at NYU in the news during my very first year as a student. This made me apprehensive about my future at NYU. Clearly, the university needs to do more to ensure that students are prioritizing their own mental health.
Allowing students to take leave for mental health care would ensure that professors are more understanding of the difficulties faced by their students and the subsequent effects on their academic performance. Most importantly, the bill would allow students at NYU to excel in all spheres as their mental health improves.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019 print edition. Email Diya Jain at [email protected]