Students in Oregon can now take time off of school for mental health reasons just as they would if they were physically ill.

The new law, signed by Governor Kate Brown, expands the list of reasons why a student can be excused from class to include mental or behavioral health.

Experts say that the state legislation is one of the first of its kind in the United States.

Oregon's New Mental Health Law

The new law was backed by student leaders and youth activists who say that the measure is meant to eradicate the stigma around mental health.

Oregon has one of the highest suicide rates across the country. It is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 14 years in the state, according to the state Health Authority.

Haily Hardcastle, an 18-year-old and one of the students who championed the mental health bill, said that she and other youth activists were inspired by the national movement that followed last year's school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

"We were inspired by Parkland in the sense that it showed us that young people can totally change the political conversation," she explained to Time. "Just like those movements, this bill is something completely coming from the youth."

Young activists also previously lobbied for legislation to lower the voting age and place a stricter restriction on gun use. Both efforts, however, failed.

Taking Mental Health Issues Seriously

Under the new state law, students can take up to five excused absences within a three-month period. Previously, students can only be excused from participating in class for reasons related to physical illnesses.

According to experts, this measure is one of the firsts in the United States to demand schools to treat mental health and physical health equally. Debbie Plotnik, executive director of the nonprofit group Mental Health America, said that the new law is the first step to challenge the way society approaches mental health issues.

"We need to say it's just as OK to take care for mental health reasons as it is to care for a broken bone or a physical illness," she stated.

In a report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the suicide rate increased 33 percent from 1999 to 2017. Suicide among young people between the ages of 15 and 24 is on a steady rise since 2000.

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