IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - According to the Iowa Department of Public Education, one in every five students in Iowa, ages 13 through 18, have or will have a serious mental health illness.
Studies show when kids struggle with mental health, they may have difficulty concentrating or reaching their potential in school.
Two seniors at the University of Iowa's College of Nursing are trying to change that.
After spending the past summer abroad together, friends and classmates Grace Anderson and Hannah Ingle decided they wanted to make a difference. Both seniors said they're passionate about bringing awareness to mental health but wanted to take it a step further.
After seeing Oregon and Utah pass legislation allowing students to miss school for mental health days, Anderson and Ingle were inspired to bring a similar policy to Iowa.
"We just thought it would be a great idea," Anderson said.
INTRODUCING THE BILL
During their free time, the full-time nursing students are compiling research and speaking to school districts about mental health.
With guidance and support from State Senator Liz Mathis, they've created S.F. 2067.
"[Mathis] kind of took us under her arm and is helping us through the process," Anderson added.
HOW IT WORKS
The bill would give students, kindergarten through 12th grade, three excused mental health days every school year. A student can use them if they're feeling overwhelmed, depressed or suicidal, for example.
School can be stressful and the desire to succeed can put a lot of pressure on children.
"Kids feel very overworked and overwhelmed with sports and extracurriculars, and school eight hours a day, and homework, and family lives, and working," Ingle explained.
Parents would still be required to call in their child's absence. But under the policy, they would not need to provide documentation from a doctor.
To prevent students from abusing the rules to stay home, the bill requires a school nurse, counselor or teacher to reach out to the child using the mental health day. They can then refer them to a mental health professional.
"We think that this will increase the communication between staff and family members, and in the long run, get people a lot of help that they need," Anderson said.
The friends hope the policy will encourage students to be open and honest about what they're going through, which may help get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health.
"That will allow them to get resources that they might not have had if they called in just saying that they were sick because people wouldn't know if they had the flu or if they were really struggling deeply with something," Ingle said.
THE NEXT STEPS
The bill is now in a senate committee. Both seniors hope it passes later this spring.
At this point, Anderson and Ingle are waiting to see what happens next. But they're confident their mental health policy can make a big difference.
"We believe this is such a simple change in the education system," Ingle said. "It's pretty much giving mental health the same resources as physical health. It can give kids the break they need or has the power, we think, to save a life."