How to Know When to Take a Mental Health Day
We should treat mental health more like physical health.
Posted July 12, 2017 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Madalyn Parker, a web developer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, emailed her colleagues to say she’d be using two sick days to focus on her mental health. The company’s CEO, Ben Congleton, responded by thanking her for helping “cut through the stigma of mental health.” Parker shared his positive response on Twitter, and the story has gone viral as her tweet has sparked discussions across major media about workplace mental health.
Treat Mental Health Like Physical Health
If you had a cold, you might decide to power through your workday. But if you had the flu, you’d likely need to stay home and rest—and no one would call you "weak" for getting the flu. In fact, your co-workers would likely thank you for not coming into the office when you’re sick.
Mental health rarely gets the same respect. Instead, people are told to “get over it” when they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or similar issues. But mental health is part of your overall health. If you don’t proactively address it, you won’t be able to perform at your best.
When to Take a Mental Health Day
As a psychotherapist, I’ve helped many people determine whether they were mentally healthy enough to do their job. And much of it depends on the specific issue you’re grappling with and what kind of work you do.
I once worked with a bus driver who was struggling with depression. She struggled to maintain her concentration and would sometimes grow forgetful. It was clearly a safety concern, and she needed more than one mental health day—she needed a leave of absence to work on herself. Fortunately, most people in need of a mental health day aren’t in such a dire condition. Instead, they’re struggling to handle stress, regulate their thoughts, or manage their emotions. And a day or two away from the office might give them an opportunity to practice the self-care they need to get back on track.
Here are a few times when you might decide you need a mental health day:
- When you’re distracted by something you need to address. If you’re behind on your bills and taking a day off to tackle your budget could help you feel as though you’re back in control, it may make sense to take a day to address it so you can reduce your anxiety.
- When you’ve been neglecting yourself. Just like electronic devices need recharging, it's important to take time to charge your own batteries. A little alone time or an opportunity to practice some self-care can help you perform better.
- When you need to attend appointments to care for your mental health. Whether you need to see your doctor to get your medication adjusted or you need to schedule an appointment with your therapist, taking a day off to address your mental health needs is instrumental in helping you be at your best.
Why Leaders Should Care About Employee’s Mental Health
It would be wonderful if all employers supported employee efforts to take care of their mental health in the same way Congleton did. But clearly the tweet went viral because most employers wouldn’t have had the same reaction, and that’s unfortunate because workplace mental health is important not just to individuals, but to the entire workforce.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 17 percent of the U.S. population is functioning at optimal mental health. And one in five people live with a diagnosable mental health condition at any given time.
The Center for Prevention and Health estimates mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers as much as $105 billion annually. Reduced productivity, absenteeism, and increased health-care costs are just a few of the ways mental health issues cost employers money.
Fortunately, conversations like the one sparked by this tweet can be key to reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Clearly, people aren’t either mentally healthy or mentally ill: Mental health is a continuum, and we all likely have room for improvement. Taking a mental health day every once in a while could help you build mental strength and improve your mental health.
Learn more in 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do.
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