Why shouldn’t kids have mental health days too?

In this week’s Lenny Letter, Lena Dunham writes:

My earliest memory of self-care, not yet named as such, was when my mother allowed me to take a “mental-health day” from third grade. That may sound like a parody of a precocious Wes Anderson character, but it was no joke: I desperately needed that day, a day away from bullying, from exclusion, from addition and subtraction. I read some American Girl fiction and ate my favorite kind of pound cake (a now-defunct deli brand called Mom’s Best), and my mother and I went across Broadway to the five-dollar store so I could purchase a crushed-velvet T-shirt with the quarters from my piggy bank. By the time evening rolled around, I was positively euphoric. My mother had given me permission to relax every fiber of my being and, in doing so, reclaim my fight.

There’s so much to love about this. The fact her mother was so progressive when it came to offering her daughter a mental-health day. The fact Lena learned early on how to address feelings of overwhelm.

She writes, “My mother had given me permission to relax every fiber of my being and, in doing so, reclaim my fight.” Exactly. Because how can you possible “reclaim your fight” while you are still in the fight. Stepping out of it and giving yourself some breathing room, a rest, time to assess, is the absolute best way possible to fight again.

The Footy Show’s Erin Molan on anxiety. Article continues after this video.

The “fight” being the everyday challenges we all face, wondering if we are good enough, smart enough, strong enough, beautiful enough. Wondering if we have enough friends. Wondering if we can get Kate to like us again, or Mrs Forster to stop criticising our handwriting in front of the whole class. Wondering if the future will be okay. Wondering who we will be and whether that will be good enough.

The list is endless and not solved by a Google search.


Not all young people will need to take regular mental health days but I’ll bet most of them will come across at least one time when they could use one.

Think about what children and teenagers have on their plates these days. Imagine a typical day – there aren’t a lot of kids playing down the road until the streetlights go on and then being bored when they get home because there’s nothing to watch on the only screen entertainment at home – four TV stations (including the ABC).

Their lives are full and when they’re not full they can fill it with technology and virtual worlds and a deep longing for a life that looks so great on someone else’s social media feed. There’s not a lot of space in there.

If you’ve never been taught how to cope with stress are pressure, how are you meant to figure it out when you are still young and vulnerable?

And what’s wrong about taking time out? Pressing pause? It’s not weak, it’s not a “sickie” – adults are told by mental health experts it can be the smartest thing you do, does the same idea not apply to kids because they’re, well, kids?

Lena Dunham also uses TV show Girls to highlight mental health issues. Image: Hannah, Girls, HBO

Young people always think they are the only ones struggling. That might explain why some don't feel comfortable discussing any issues they are experiencing with friends and parents.

The last thing I want is for my kids to think they have to figure everything out for themselves. I would love to be able to say, "Sometimes life is really hard. Sometimes you might feel like you can't cope. That's when it's okay to take a day and have a think. Rest up. Gather your strength. And we can come up with some ideas for you to feel better about it all."

If we're to ever have any hope of properly addressing mental health issues we need to do a couple of things. We need to stop talking about them as though they are something shameful and rare, and we need to do more to address them earlier in life so it becomes about prevention instead of cure.

That's why offering children and teenagers mental health days is so incredibly important.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.


More articles