The Real
Mental Health Days

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Is it possible to use sick time for real mental health days?

When I first became a nurse the words “Mental Health Day” were always accompanied by a smile and air quotes. There was a stigma that these days were meant to play hooky from work, but is there more to them?

As time has gone on, I’ve realized that utilizing sick time is far beyond being physically unwell or taking advantage of the system. Read more to find out my insights!

Posted: April 23rd, 2021

Disclaimer: Although I am a mental health professional, all information and reflections are meant for educational purposes only. If you plan to make changes in your life, it may be worth consulting with loved ones and/or your wellness team. Also, this post may contain affiliate links that will connect you with some pretty cool products and when making a purchase through those links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Intro

You’ve likely come across a social media post talking about the need to attend to our mental health needs as much as our physical.

“You’d go to a doctor if your arm was broken.”

“Prioritize your mental health.”

“Your body is connected to your mind.”

Those are beautiful thoughts, but how often have you been encouraged to call in sick to work when you are trapped within a cage of anxiety, depression or just general burnout?

I’m not saying that people don’t take advantage of sick time, but the majority of the times I’ve called in sick to work was because of my poor mental health.

So, when I said I was taking a “Mental Health Day,” I was actually attending to my wellbeing.

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    How to Know If You Need a Mental Health Day

    There are multiple signs and symptoms mental illness. A quick online search will help you out, especially with anxiety, depression and burnout, but I want to share some with you here…

    – emotional exhaustion

    – physical exhaustion

    – difficulties concentrating

    – alienation from others

    – reduced performance

    – increase in anger

    – difficulties coping

    – low mood

    – low motivation

    – unable to enjoy the work

    – feeling dysregulated

    – experiencing psychosis

    At the end of the day, my general rule of thumb is asking myself, “If I go to work, could something bad happen?”

    If the answer is yes, I consider using sick time.

    That said, I work with patients. If I am struggling with my own mental health, then I put patients at risk, which is NOT an option. In other positions, are your symptoms putting you at risk of losing your job if you go?

    How Can You Get One?

    Business Owner

    Every employer is different, especially if YOU are the business owner. There is a lot of responsibility that comes along with your roll, regardless of your work. In cases like this, you may need to look into ways to delegate the work or schedule a couple of mental health days every month to decrease your chances of burning out.

    This seems quite a naïve thing for me to type, but without you, your business would fail. Your mental health is the most important piece to the puzzle of success.

    Sick Time

    If you are a person who has sick time, utilize it. That may or may not require a sick note, but at the end of the day, it is there for a reason. If you are a generally physically well person, but struggle with your mental health, why wouldn’t you use that time to feel better and get back on track?

    Unpaid Leave

    This kind of comes down to the “What is worse?” scenario. Will you feel better by taking time off or will it financially impact you in a horrible way?

    Weigh the pros and cons of the situation. If your job performance will likely be super poor and put you at risk for injury or error, your manager may appreciate your insight to take a step back. That is not always the case, of course, as stigma around mental health continues to exist.

    Doctor's Note

    If you need a sick note, see what options you have, such as your family doctor, walk-in clinic or online physician apps. It may seem to defeat the purpose of a day off, but if you look into the options in advance, you may be able to quickly obtain one. If you feel that Monday will be rough, seek help over the weekend to get time off during the following week so that you can completely designate that time to your wellbeing.

    What Should I Do?

    The list is truly endless on what you can do with your time.

    A better question I would ask is, “What do you need right now?”

    Some options you can consider include:

    Catch up on housework.

    Sleep for 16 hours straight.

    Make an emergency appointment for massage.

    Make one with a counsellor.

    Contact a crisis line to vent.

    Make an appointment with your doctor.

    Cry.

    Learn about meditation/mindfulness.

    Find a way to create routine.

    Go for an extensive walk or hike.

    Socialize with a loved one.

    Attend to self-care.

    Relaxing activities.

    Hobby.

    Explore your community.

    Do absolutely nothing except hang out.

    What to Avoid

    Anything that could put your mental health at RISK.

    By that, I mean, any activity that could end in regret or damage.

    What comes to mind is substance use. Although it can be fun at the time, the rebound or hangover typically leads to a worsened state of mental wellbeing.

    Another thought is any interactions with others that could cause drama or upset. This is not the time to reach out to people who make you feel worse or scroll through dating apps. Make this day about your wellbeing and surround yourself with positive influences.

    Insight

    Regardless of what you do, make the day count for a positive win. Even if it only rejuvenates you a tiny bit, it is better than nothing. We need time and space to recharge, but sometimes our scheduled days off are not enough in the chaos of life.

    That said, if you feel you need more than one mental health day, it may be worth speaking with your human resource department, employer or doctor for a role change or maybe an extended leave to attend to your needs.

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