The Student News Site of Taipei American School




Walk the Walk, Talk the Talk: TAS needs mental health days


Towards the end of each semester, sniffle season comes around like clockwork at Taipei American School—that is, the period of time when every single student in a class starts to get the sniffles. Whether it’s a symptom of recurring allergies, a cold, or a slight fever, boxes of tissues are passed expertly around the classroom, making their way to the most severe victims wearing surgical masks and chugging warm water. 
Waves of sickness at the end of each semester are often accompanied by waves of absences as well, but colds are not the only reason that students miss classes.  Last year, at a junior class meeting, then Associate Principal, now Upper School Principal, Mr. Andrew Lowman addressed the issue of academic dishonesty, discouraging students from missing classes just because they need more time to study for a test. 
“At TAS, we do not ask why you’re sick if your parents call in and say you are ill,” he said. “That’s my way of saying, that if a family has a conversation and decides [for the student to take a sick day] I would not argue with that. What I don’t like is when families use that on test days. There’s some game playing there, and then you’re not thinking about the community and that there are other students in the class. The overall idea of taking a day—sure. I’m not opposed to that.” 
But regardless of whether it’s coming to school while sick, or faking a “sick day” to cram, students at TAS are adopting unhealthy habits as a means to an end. Seemingly, we will do almost anything to ensure that our grades do not suffer. 
The first step that TAS must take in addressing this toxic culture is to allow students to take days off due to mental health reasons. Not only would this reduce stress-induced sickness, but it also begins to chip away at the pervasive belief that nothing is more important than grades.  
Some schools have already begun implementing mental health days into their school policy. Just recently in Oregon, a state law went into effect giving students five mental health days within a three month period. This new law hopes to help students with anxiety or depression, who often have to make up seemingly more legitimate excuses for issues that are difficult enough to deal with already. 
Judging by the way some students drag themselves to school even though they can barely breathe through their congested nostrils, most students here are in danger of working too hard, not slacking off. A new policy that allows students to take mental health days, could encourage students to value their own wellbeing and could potentially be a significant step towards improving wellness, which the school claims to be one of their main focuses. 
Arguably, students could just stay home if they’re sick, but it’s not that simple. There is already a culture of stress at TAS, one that requires work on behalf of both the students and the administration, to be undone. 
Sarah J. (‘21) and Avery L. (‘21) both said that they almost always come to school even if they are not feeling well, and this practice is common among their friends. “Last week I skipped school for the first time in three weeks, and I’m still making up work [right now],” Sarah said. 
On the other hand, Alina L. (‘20) said that there have been times when her mom has called in sick for her when she was overwhelmed with work. “Mental health is so important. It’s not because students procrastinate, it’s because you have to fit so many things in your schedule. Sometimes you need a day to reboot.” 
Furthermore, research has shown that stress is associated with an increased risk for developing colds—and spending late nights at your desk, getting only a few hours of sleep, definitely  takes a toll on your immune system.
Every once in a while, when the workload becomes overwhelming, just the knowledge that it is okay to leave things incomplete has the potential to transform the way students approach learning. Not as a task, but a way to better themselves. If TAS were to have a mental health leave policy written in the student handbook, it would represent concrete change. Actions truly do speak louder than words. 
However, slow progress is still progress. Mr. Lowman commends Honor Committee for courageously addressing the topic of toxic competition at TAS, as well as anyone who decides to not participate in TAS’s stress culture. Though, for TAS keep its pace with an increasingly progressive world, the administration needs to evolve school policies to reflect the values that they preach.

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