The Case for Taking a Mental Health Day
Have you ever taken a “sick” day - with your freelance or full-time job – when you really just needed a day off? We’re guessing you have, and if so, you’re definitely not alone. According to CBS MoneyWatch, feigning illness as an excuse to play hooky went up 10% last year. Skipping out on work because you need to relax or de-stress may be acceptable, and even recommended.
Because seven out of ten bosses still don’t believe taking a mental health day is a valid excuse to take time off, we recommend scheduling your day off ahead of time, calling in for “personal reasons,” or taking another route and being completely honest and frank. Ideally, your workplace provides a supportive environment that includes mental health days in their sick day allotment, protecting employees from having to tiptoe around the issue.
Mental health matters
May is mental health month, an important time for us to remember that a quarter of Americans suffer from mental illness in any given year, and the majority of Americans are under stress at work. The prevalence of conditions like depression and anxiety have garnered much-needed attention in recent years, with a focus on taking the stigma away from people silently fighting an invisible illness.
Dr. Bobby Kahlon, who’s been practicing medicine as a general doctor for ten years, says several conditions qualify for a mental health leave, including panic disorder, any type of anxiety, and PTSD. “These are chronic illnesses, just like diabetes or heart disease,” Dr. Kahlon says. “It’s going to affect your work if you don’t take a day off.”
But what about those of us who aren’t diagnosed with mental illness but feel overworked and exhausted? Does taking a mental health day apply in these cases as well? Here are the top three reasons why it should.
1. You’ll care more about your work.
According to ABC News, Americans take less vacation, work longer days, and retire later than the English, the French, the Germans, the Japanese, and anyone in the industrialized world. And with today’s 24/7 email access, the work bleeds into personal time more than ever before.
People work overtime for many reasons, including ambition, pride in their work, pressure from their company, and the drive to maintain a particular lifestyle. However, if you let overworking go on long enough, a sneaky thing called apathy can start to creep in.
Signs of apathy include dodging work, dawdling, letting things slide, and quickly scrambling through projects in order to catch up. At this juncture, you’re no longer invested in the work, you’re just showing up.
How a mental health day should help: Taking an extra day to regain balance can be considered a preventative health measure, recharging a frazzled immune system so you can avoid getting physically sick and be less susceptible to symptoms of depression. Dr. Jacqueline Brunshaw reported that “being aware of your mental state and proactively nurturing it will help keep you well and productive.”
2. To keep from crashing.
We mean this both literally and figuratively. Working long hours and thinking constantly of work has been known to cause insomnia. According to Inc.com, insomnia is one of the four signs that you need a day off ASAP. Continuing on without enough sleep can exacerbate stress, which then makes it harder to sleep, and the cycle goes on. It can also be dangerous. According to the American Psychological Association, “fatigue and sleep deprivation are correlated to mandatory and voluntary overtime and are also associated with work-related accidents in blue collar workers.” Not the most comforting thought before getting behind the wheel after a sleepless night.
How a mental health day should help: While you may not catch up on your sleep in 24 hours, a mental health day should help you feel 30 to 50 percent better, making you more equipped to handle the challenges and complications of a day on the job. Adrian Garcia*, a project manager in the San Francisco Bay Area, says he has taken a mental health day only when he felt it was absolutely necessary and came back to work refreshed afterward. “People call in sick when they have a cold or flu,” Adrian says. “But the mind can feel off too, and that counts. The mind needs to be taken care of.”
3. You’ll use fewer sick days.
If taking a mental health day doesn’t seem to help and you feel compelled to make a regular habit of it, it’s a sign that something else may be going. You may want to seek the advice of a professional. For the most part, those who are in tune with their mental health needs call in sick less often and are stronger workers.
How a mental health day should help: What you do with your time off is up to you. It could mean getting a massage, reading a book, or spending time with friends. The common denominator is that it should help you recharge and regain perspective.
In close to ten years as an educator in the Oakland public school system, Delilah Thomas* has only taken one mental health day. “My colleague and I met up at First and Last Chance Bar in Oakland,” Delilah says. “We sipped on Hot Toddies and Irish Coffees discussing work and boyfriend drama. It was a chill, amazing day. I need more of those.”
*The name of this individual has been changed to protect anonymity.
[Title image by Georgie Pauwels]