Oregon students will advocate for 2 mental health bills in Salem

By Elizabeth Hayes  – Staff Reporter, Portland Business Journal

Derek Evans, a senior at Sandy High School, stayed home the other day, purportedly with a cold. In reality, he was feeling anxiety stemming from a school shooting scare, the second in two weeks.

But depression and anxiety aren’t considered legitimate excuses for an absence — and that’s something Evans and a student group he helped found are aiming to change at the state level.

At the prompting of Students for a Healthy Oregon, the House Committee on Health Care will be sponsoring two mental health-oriented bills during the 2019 legislative session.

One would requires every student in grades six through 12 to undergo a yearly mental health wellness check. The other would expand the reasons for excused absences to include mental or behavioral health.

“It will make it clear to school districts that mental illnesses are just as harmful to students and their education as physical illnesses,” Evans said. “It’s a matter of trusting students to make the call for themselves in how to better their education and keep themselves healthy.”

Evans said the seeds of the legislation were planted at the Oregon Association of Student Councils’ summer camp in July. Out of that came the 25-member Students for a Healthy Oregon, which has received support and advice from representatives of Providence Health & Services and the Wellbeing Trust.

“We talked about the legislative process and brainstormed ways to make things better,” said Jessica Adamson, Providence’s director of government affairs. “The students met pretty frequently and whittled down the list of issues to these two that they thought would have the highest impact with least amount of controversy. We’re thrilled to help others raise their voices. It takes some courageous willingness on their part to share their stores and advocate for better laws for them and their friends.”

Evans said the students want to remove the stigma from mental health. He expects to go to Salem to testify.

“It was a consensus right then and there we had to be the ones to make the moves and set up this organization and take matters into our own hands,” he said. “Everything I know in working on these concepts we see in our daily lives. It’s something we all find very important because these are huge issues and students don’t necessarily have access to the proper professionals or evaluations that let them know what they’re dealing with and how to properly treat it.”

Portland Business Journal
Dec 18, 2018