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A New Idea to Combat Workplace Stress: Mental Health Days

Encouraging employers to support workers' mental health and well-being.

According to a WHO Health and Work Performance Questionnaire that assesses sick days, depression was cited as the number one reason for absenteeism on the job. And a February 2010 issue of the Harvard Mental Health Letter found that depression and anxiety were among the top five reasons for absenteeism.

Americans are clearly suffering. According to the National Comorbidity Survey Replication, about 26% of American adults aged 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in any given year.

Wouldn't it be great if America's workers could take time off to rest, manage their stress, or even see a mental health professional? I am proposing that businesses should institute two or three paid "mental health days" a year as part of their employee benefits package.

Over and over, we psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals hear people say: "I can't take another day of work," or "I'll go crazy if I have to return to work tomorrow." The list of remarks illustrating the sense of dread that many people feel about their workplaces could go on and on.

People certainly don't want to quit their jobs -- especially in these uncertain economic times. But some people do opt to use sick days when they need a break from the stress. Why not formalize such an action? After all, the ability to take a sick day because of extreme anxiety or stress is just as important as being able to do so because of a severe upper respiratory infection.

People need a mental break from the anxieties and stresses inherent in daily living. In light of this, I would like to see businesses incorporate "mental health days" into their benefits packages in addition to the usual sick days. Taking such a step would finally put us on the way toward establishing at least intellectual parity for mental health problems. This, in turn, would lessen the stigma associated with emotional disorders.

Imagine an employee requesting a mental health day as a matter of course. As acceptability grew, we would become a nation that not only is more aware of mental stress and mental disorders in and out of the workplace, but we would begin to put the embarrassment and shame that so many people feel about mental health care, or as some say "going to the shrink," to rest. This would lead to looking at emotional problems in the same light as physical problems, be they big or little.

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This blog aims to present psychiatric/psychological information to a general readership, offering insights into a variety of emotional disorders, as well as social issues that affect our emotional well-being. It includes the ideas and opinions of Dr. London and other leading experts. This blog does not provide psychotherapy or personal advice, which should only be done by a mental health care professional during a personal evaluation.