700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Missing School for Mental Health Treatment: What Parents Need to Know

Mar 02, 2021
Child wearing mask sitting at desk in classroom

As students begin to return to school in person, some families are relearning how to balance their children’s education with their children’s mental health care. Deciding when it’s okay to remove your child from class for a medical appointment can be even more difficult when they have had sporadic school participation for nearly a year because of the pandemic.

Mental illnesses are increasingly common in childhood and adolescence. Approximately 20% of children struggle with a mental illness and approximately 4% of children aged 12-17 have a substance use disorder. Treatment of these illnesses often involve frequent appointments with doctors, therapists and other mental health professionals.

While it’s ideal to schedule these types of appointments after school, that isn’t always possible. Parents may be tempted to cancel or push back appointments by weeks or months to find a more convenient time slot, but it’s important that children receive care on the schedule recommended by their providers.

Here are a few answers to common questions when it comes to pulling children out of school for mental health treatment.

How Can I Prevent My Child From Falling Behind?

Communicate with teachers about your child’s appointments as far in advance as possible, so that they have enough time to make accommodations such as alternate assignments or extended due dates.

If you are worried about the effect of frequent mental health-related absences on your child’s school performance, talk to your child’s school about getting a 504 plan. 504 plans are formal agreements between schools and families to provide specific accommodations to children with chronic illnesses or disabilities. These agreements can be very flexible, and can help ensure your child doesn’t fall behind.

What if My Child Is Embarrassed About Their Need for Mental Health Treatment?

Though we have come a long way, there is still a lot of stigma attached to mental illness. Children may worry about the social consequences of their peers knowing the real reason they are being pulled out of classes.

Encourage your child to realize that having a mental health or substance use disorder is not so different from having a chronic illness like Type I Diabetes or Crohn’s Disease. Although these illnesses all affect different parts of the body, they are the same in that nobody chooses to have them. There is no shame in getting treatment for illnesses we cannot otherwise control and your child has nothing to be embarrassed about.

All of that being said, your child’s health information is theirs to share or not; they don’t have to tell their friends why they are being pulled from class. In a world where your child may feel like they can control very little, empower them to feel ownership of their own health information.

Is Medical Care Really More Important Than School?

Your child’s mental and emotional well-being affects everything else in their lives – including their school performance. Uncontrolled symptoms of some of the most common mental illnesses can directly impact concentration, attention and motivation, leading to more trouble with schoolwork. That’s why, though your child’s education is incredibly important, it’s equally important that they are receiving the mental health care that they need. Illnesses that are not appropriately monitored are also more likely to get worse – which could mean even more appointments, sick days and overall absences down the line.

Remember, your child’s wellness is essential to all aspects of their life, including school. It can be tricky to balance everything – school, hobbies, friendships, sports and medical or mental health care – but, as we start transitioning back to our in-person routines, maintaining or re-starting mental health treatment is essential!

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Featured Expert

Kristen Cannon, MD

Kristen Cannon, MD is a second-year psychiatry resident at The Ohio State University. Dr. Cannon is an Ohio native and attended medical school at Northeast Ohio Medical University.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.