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Every Day Should Be Mental Health Day

People often talk about taking a mental health day, but few actually do it.

Key points

  • One out of every five people in post-conflict settings has a mental health condition.
  • Although 75 percent of private and public sector workers have paid sick leave, they will not use it for mental health reasons.
  • In a recent survey, 54 percent said their organization prioritized mental health compared to other priorities, up from 41 percent in 2019.

Nearly 30 years ago, the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) designated October 10 as World Mental Health Day to call attention to mental health issues, eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health, and support those who need mental health care.

Two years ago, with mental health conditions worsening, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its Special Initiative for Mental Health (2019-2023): Universal Health Coverage for Mental Health to ensure access to quality and affordable care for mental health conditions for 100 million additional people in a dozen prioritized countries. Statistics like these drove this effort:

  • Mental health conditions and substance use disorders increased 13 percent from 2007 to 2017.
  • Mental health conditions now result in people living with disabilities for one out of every five years.
  • Some 20 percent of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental health condition.
  • One of every five people in post-conflict settings has a mental health condition.

Twenty percent of adults in the United States experience mental illness every year, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These illnesses can have wide-ranging effects on physical health, relationships with family and friends, and performance in school or on the job. Working with organizations worldwide, I have seen how difficult it is for both employers and employees to acknowledge and address the importance of mental wellness. However, for our local, national, and global economies to grow, we must commit to ensuring good mental health for all people.

Workplace Mental Health Awareness Has Improved, but Not Enough

Businesses are making strides in adopting mental health policies as part of overall team member health. As Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas wrote in the Harvard Business Review,

In 2020, mental health support went from a nice-to-have to a true business imperative. Fast forward to 2021, and the stakes have been raised even higher thanks to a greater awareness of the workplace factors that can contribute to poor mental health.

Their recent survey of 1,500 U.S. adults with full-time jobs found an understandable increase in mental health challenges in the two years since their previous study. It revealed that almost two-thirds of respondents discussed their mental health at work in the past year; unfortunately, under half of them said that experience was positive or supportive. In addition, mental health is causing more workers to leave their jobs, some driven by work that felt overpowering or untenable.

It is disturbing to learn that the vast majority (84 percent) of those surveyed described at least one aspect of their work that harmed their mental wellness. But tellingly, it confirmed that mental health issues affect everyone, as C-level and executive respondents were more likely than others to report at least one mental health symptom.

When and How to Take a Proper Mental Health Day

Anxiety and depressive disorders cost more than $1 trillion globally in lost productivity each year. You probably stay home from work when you feel physically too ill to do your job adequately. So why not take a day off when you are feeling mentally under the weather? Indications that your mind needs to take a day off include:

  • Exhaustion and/or sleeplessness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Inability to focus
  • Stronger feelings of sadness
  • Irritability
  • Frequent physical illness.

People often talk about taking a “mental health” day, but they often do not follow through. It has been shown that even though many employees (75 percent of private and public sector workers) have paid sick leave, they will not use it for mental health reasons. This cannot continue; both employees and employers must come to terms with the need to address mental wellness to decrease burnout and improve overall health.

Make the most of your mental health day: Experts suggest that you plan it as much as possible. It is a sick day, so call it that. Once you decide on a day to recharge mentally, you must determine how to gain the most significant benefit from it. Here are some suggestions:

  • Relax
  • Do something fun
  • Make changes
  • Consider whether you need a more extended break
  • Seek professional and/or online resources

What should you avoid? Smoking, drinking, using other substances, overeating (especially unhealthy foods), getting caught up in negative emotions, and fixing social media posts.

Companies Must Talk the Talk and Walk the Walk

Companies can no longer just say that mental health is essential. A successful corporate response to mental wellness usually requires a change to organizational culture. Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report found that companies that best supported their employees through pandemic, racial injustice, return-to-office planning, and mental health issues generally have better mental health and engagement outcomes.

Fifty-four percent of those surveyed said that mental health was prioritized at their organization compared to other priorities, versus 41 percent in 2019. Nearly half of respondents considered their company leaders to be mental health advocates at work, increasing from 37 percent in 2019.

Besides a culture change, researchers suggested that businesses offer flexibility and other more sustainable ways of working. It also urges companies to connect more fully with their workers, from all-hands opportunities to individual conversations and talks about the significance of authenticity and empathy.

The WHO’s first Director-General, Brock Chisholm, said, “Without mental health, there can be no true physical health.” As we mark another World Mental Health Day, let us rededicate ourselves to his vision for a healthy world with greater attention to, acceptance, and action to address the urgent need for mental wellness.

If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health issues, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area. To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


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