TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It is a sensitive issue that’s been affecting many families in Arizona.
State officials reported more than 40 teen suicides in Arizona in 2020; deaths that are impacting neighborhoods, schools, and families.
Now there’s a new state bill on the table to count mental health days as excused absences.
Lisa Cole, a mental health advocate says, mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic. She says it's about time a bill like this was introduced for students.
“We’ve been getting so many calls from family members trying to support their family,” she told
Cole says the number of calls have nearly doubled at the National Alliance for Mental Illness.
“People are definitely struggling and they cite the pandemic as a reason for that quite often,” she added.
Cole says the youth and their families have called in about feeling isolated, anxious and frustrated from not being able to leave their homes.
Which is why she believes the Arizona bill SB1097 couldn’t come any sooner.
It was first introduced in March, as the pandemic was starting.
Lawmakers rejected it back then, but just last week the senate re-considered the bill and it passed unanimously.
The bill would treat absences based on mental and behavioral health issues as excused absences, at a state level.
Though it would leave individual mental health policies up to each school district.
“I think it’s an absolutely wonderful thing. The more we are able to talk about mental health openly, the better it will be because people will feel more comfortable with getting help,” Cole told KGUN9.
She says the number of suicides has grown exponentially among young people since the pandemic. She believes this bill would be a good first step to getting youth the help they need.
“We see the potentially for young people’s productivity going up, their comfort level going up, their grades may improve, and I think the percentage of young people who will be able to get help and talk about these things will go up,” she added.
As a parent or peer, she says the best way to normalize a conversation is by openly talking about your feelings.
“Or just being open about the fact that, hey I’m not really having that great a day but we’ll get through this,” said Cole.
She says signs of deteriorating mental health include change of habits-- like loss of appetite, change in sleeping schedules, fluctuating moods, and even heightened anxiety and depression.
“50% of young people from the ages of 8 to 15 do not receive treatment. I definitely feel that a bill like this would make that percentage go down,” she told KGUN9.
Here’s her message to students:
“We want to make sure, especially for the young people, that having a mental health illness is nothing to be ashamed of,” she said.
For mental health resources, click here.