One day last year, I did something my parents never let me do when I was younger: I let my daughter, then 10, stay home from school even though she wasn’t physically sick.
She looked exhausted and I knew she was in a funk with some of her school friends. So when, after trying to cajole her out of bed for 10 minutes, she rolled over with pleading eyes and asked: “Can I please just stay home today?” I caved and said yes.
She rolled over and fell back asleep and slept for much of the day.
I said yes because I knew that even though she wasn’t obviously physically sick, mentally, she was under the weather.
Ever since then, I let all three of my kids take one day a year off from school if they want it — no questions asked.
In our house, we call them mental health days and they’re an important part of our family life. It’s a privilege, I know. I work from home so when my kids take a mental health day, I don’t have to explain it to a boss or miss a day at the office.
Our son loves school and has never taken his free pass, but our two daughters do every year because sometimes life just feels overwhelming — even for a child.
There’s been plenty of media attention on the importance of acknowledging our mental health. The Canadian Mental Health Association launched a campaign a year ago, urging the Ontario government to fund mental health the way it does physical health. And mental health champions like Olympian Clara Hughes have shined a spotlight on mental health as an illness. Hughes has spoken out about her own struggles with depression since 2010. But she’s not alone: One in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year.
As a society, we don’t sweep talk about mental health under the rug anymore. We acknowledge it. We tweet about it. We like and share articles or posts written by others who have faced mental illness. That’s all been good progress.
At home, we talk to our kids about mental health as much as we can. Take care of your mind the way you do your body, we tell them. But more than talk, we need to act. As parents, that’s what we’re trying to do when we let our kids take a mental health day from school.
We push our kids to be their best. They do well in school. They participate in extracurricular activities. They help out at home. But we also want them to know that it’s okay to not be okay. And if that means that after 10 minutes of cajoling, all they really want to do is stay in bed that day because they need to take a break from the world? Well, that’s just fine with me, because in our house mental health is health.