How To Know When You Need A Men­tal Health Day


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. The 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 other men­tal health is­sues.

But men­tal health is part of your over­all health. If you don’t proac­tively ad­dress your men­tal health, 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 men­tal health is­sue you’re grap­pling with and what kind of work you do.

I once worked with a bus driver who was bat­tling de­pres­sion. She fought to main­tain her con­cen­tra­tion but would some­times grow for­get­ful. It was clearly a safety con­cern, re­quir­ing 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 ad­min­is­ter 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 to sched­ule an ap­point­ment with your ther­a­pist, tak­ing a day off to ad­dress your men­tal health needs is in­stru­men­tal in help­ing you be your best.

Why Lead­ers Should Care About Em­ploy­ees’ Men­tal Health

It would be won­der­ful if all em­ploy­ers sup­ported em­ploy­ees’ 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.

That’s un­for­tu­nate be­cause work­place men­tal health is im­por­tant not to just to in­di­vid­u­als, but to the en­tire work­force.

The U.S. Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices es­ti­mates that only 17% of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion is func­tion­ing at op­ti­mal men­tal health. And 1 in 5 peo­ple ex­pe­ri­ence a di­ag­nos­able men­tal health con­di­tion at any given time.

The Cen­ter for Pre­ven­tion and Health es­ti­mates men­tal ill­ness and sub­stance abuse is­sues cost em­ploy­ers up to $105 bil­lion an­nu­ally. Re­duced pro­duc­tiv­ity, ab­sen­teeism and in­creased health­care 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 likely, we all 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.

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