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The Importance of Taking Mental Health Days



mental health days

Is it ever ok to take a day off from work because you are tired, stressed, or nervous rather than physically sick?

Taking a day off when you feel bad, but not ill is known as a mental health day.

Taking a mental health day is normal, but some workers feel guilty about it.

Is it less legitimate to take a day off for the sake of letting one’s mind rather than physical health recover?

Are mental health days taken frequently in the UK?

While Britons are much more likely to take days off from work due to physical rather than mental health issues, more than a tenth of sick days are mental health days [1]. The actual number of sick days that people take off for mental health reasons may be underreported and higher than the statistics say.

It is ok to take a mental health day if you are feeling overwhelmed. Sometimes, taking a day off can boost job performance. Taking one day away from work now is better than dragging your feet all week.

Employers cannot realistically ask you to prove that you are feeling mentally overwhelmed. Taking a day off due to stress is normal. You can also take a day off due to sleep problems.

While you cannot get away with being frequently absent, it is reasonable to take the odd sick days to deal with stress or mental health issues.

Is it legal to take mental health days? 

As far as the law goes, mental health days are perfectly legal. The law sees no difference between taking a mental health day and taking a day off due to physical injury or illness.

However, employers may have problems with workers taking mental health days. Workers tend to lie about the reason for their absence and claim physical illness.

In some but not most cases, employers penalise workers that tell the truth about why they missed work [2].

Employers are, to some extent, required to sympathise with workers that need to take time off for mental health reasons.

If a mental health problem is severe enough, it can qualify as a disability, and an employer is then required to make reasonable accommodations.

The benefits of taking a day off without being physically ill

To perform well at one’s job and life, one has to be calm. To be relaxed and sane, one has to know how to de-stress effectively. The typical person is not in excellent mental health. One-third of women and one-fifth of men in the United Kingdom have a mental health diagnosis [3].

Stress up to a point is normal, and a person who does not have any mental health disorder may still be frequently stressed. However, chronic stress will gradually weaken a person’s physical and psychological health. In the short run, you may be able to work in spite of a lot of pressure, but in the long term, it will damage your ability to work effectively.

Many people tolerate stress for years, thinking that they can tolerate it indefinitely. But, one cannot work in spite of exhaustion forever. A person will eventually break down and lose the ability to do their job effectively.

One does not necessarily have to have any diagnosed mental illness to take a mental health day.

Taking time to de-stress can prevent as well as treat mental illness. Those who are free of mental disorders are often those who take care of their stress levels.

Sometimes, a person prefers to spend a mental health day doing almost nothing, and that is for the best if it helps them de-stress. A mental health day might also involve doing something fun and exciting.

A mental health day might also include completing some minor tasks that you have been unable to deal with due to overwork.

You might also do some planning that will help you feel less stressed in the future. You might write down a new schedule, a budget, or a list of ways you are going to reduce stress in the future. A mental health day can be an opportunity to make a difficult decision that you have been too overworked to think through.

You might also spend a mental health day swimming, fishing, or doing some other outdoor activities and light exercise. A mental health day is successful if it allows you to return to work with calmness and energy. Anything you do on a mental health day should be about getting your peace and strength back.

When is a mental health day appropriate?

Just as a physically healthy person tend to eat right and exercise, a mentally healthy person tends to have mental health improving habits.

One of these habits is that they likely do not continue to work in spite of severe stress and exhaustion. A mentally healthy person knows how to work hard much of the time and knows how to stop working if they are exhausted.

When considering whether or not you should have a mental health day, consider the seriousness of the mental health issue you are experiencing. If you have a cold, you can go to work anyway.

Mild physical illness is tolerable. If you are more seriously physically sick, on the other hand, than you cannot work effectively and should take a day off, the genuinely ill should be taking time away from work so that they can recover.

Rest is necessary for recovery, and working while sick will prolong your sickness.

Mental health is similar. You should show up for work if you are merely feeling stressed out or tired. If, however, you are feeling overwhelmed, a mental health day is a good idea. Pushing through real exhaustion will only weaken you further.

Sometimes a person can become overwhelmed by stress due to having a long list of essential tasks that they are not managing to complete.

If you have a few critical errands to run but cannot manage to do them after work because you feel too exhausted, a mental health day might be a good idea.

Once you have finished these tasks, you might find the workday much more relaxed.

Another reason to take a mental health day is to talk to a mental health care professional. If you find it challenging to schedule mental health appointments on days when you are not working, taking a day off during the week is justifiable.

While people can tolerate mild sleep problems, this is not the case for more severe sleep problems. A persistent lack of sleep can destroy your ability to function. Anyone who has ever lived with insomnia knows that it is harder to get to sleep if they know that they have to get up early tomorrow.

Taking a day off to catch up on sleep is, therefore, acceptable on occasion. If one’s absences are infrequent, there is nothing wrong with taking a day off to stay in bed late and get up early. If you know that you are not going to be working tomorrow, sleep may come to you earlier. Insomnia can become a vicious circle where tiredness makes you fear not sleeping, which keeps you up at night.

Taking a day to catch up on sleep can improve the quality of your sleep for the rest of the week and much longer.

If you are trying to quit or minimise an addiction, mental health days might be necessary. One who is addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or any other substances might continue to use them as they feel that they could not handle the withdrawals while working. Quitting addictions is important.

Dependencies can reduce the quality of and even end your life. If you are planning on stopping a substance abuse problem, you might remind yourself that it is ok to take a day or two off the month you quit. If you are not taking more sick days than you are supposed to, there is no shame in taking days off for reasons other than physical health.

Employers so far are not as understanding of mental health issues as they should be. Employers should be aware that mental strain causes reduced worker productivity, absenteeism, health care costs that are paid by the employer, and skilled employees leaving for other jobs. However, people in most or all countries still see mental health as a weakness.

Few people consider a person weak for getting sick, but many people find a person soft for being overwhelmed by stress.

Employers should understand that exhaustion makes their workers less productive. Employers should make sure that their health insurance covers mental health issues as this can save them more money than it costs. Employers should also aim to create a stress-free work environment. A low-stress workplace is not a lazy workplace.

Workers who are not stressed often work quickly, workers who are heavily stressed often work slowly. Probably no one is “completely sane.” Even if a person has an above-average level of mental health, their mental health could still be higher.

One can be much stronger, smarter, or more mentally healthy than an average person. Those who possess exceptional mental health might have as much of an advantage over others as those who are exceptionally intelligent.

The increasing prevalence of workplace burnout

Work takes its toll on the psyche. About a third of Americans not only find their jobs stressful [4] but are in worse physical or mental health than they would be without their demanding careers [5]. One should not ignore the signs that stress is becoming harmful and not merely annoying.

If stress seems to be getting worse and worse over time, this cannot be allowed to continue forever. After a certain point, it will be too much, and you will fall over. You must stop progressively worsening stress before its too late.

You should know the warning signs of excessive stress levels. Insomnia is one of the most obvious signs. If you are tired when you get home from work but frequently cannot sleep, you are pushing yourself too hard. You will have to take it easy for a while or find more effective ways of lowering your stress levels.

Mental health days should not occur too randomly

One should not suddenly wake up in the morning feeling awful and call in sick. It is a better idea to realise that one needs a mental health day and plan it out a few days in advance. If you plan all of your mental health days out a little in advance, you can remain in control of how much time you spend away from work.

You should not risk making a habit out of suddenly calling in sick for work due to stress. You may end up losing your job if you miss too many days. 18% of the population is clinically depressed or anxious [6]. Most of these people manage to remain employed.

If you plan your mental health days, you will stay in control and not end up losing your job to too many absences.

How bad does it have to be before one should take a day off for mental health reasons?

Anyone who is suffering from the symptoms of workplace burnout should consider taking an occasional day off even if they are not physically sick. Workplace burnout is now an official medical diagnosis.

You may be able to get a doctor’s note for their mental health days if your problems are severe enough to qualify for a workplace burnout diagnosis.

Workplace burnout involves even simple and easy tasks becoming difficult. Low risk and low skill tasks at work and outside of work can seem to be too difficult. Merely mailing a letter that you have already completed can be put off for weeks if one is burned out.

Things like taking out the trash can also become difficult. Workplace burnout may be your body’s way of forcing you to work less hard or to take up more stress-relieving activities.

While will power might help you function in spite of workplace burnout for a long time, this will not work if the feelings continue to get worse.

Doctors now consider workplace burnout to be a real disorder after studying it for decades [7]. Doctors understand that workplace burnout will defeat a person’s will power in the long run.

If you find something like making a phone call, cleaning the house, or paying a bill to be dreadful, you have workplace burnout. Mental health days can, in addition to other strategies, help you recover.

Does one have to be honest about the reason for their absence?

You might have a boss who does not sympathise with the idea that people need a mental health day sometimes.

If your employer sees mental health days as weakness or laziness, you might have to twist the truth. You might tell your employer that you are “feeling sick” without specifying the details. It is accurate to describe yourself as sick anyway. You will not have to lie to the extent of describing a physical illness.

How much does mental health affect job performance?

A person’s mental health matters as much as a person’s intelligence. Highly skilled employees, business owners, and people who work for themselves often feel like they cannot stop working. These people feel like their work is so vital that they must always be working.

However, entrepreneurs should be aware that they are not invincible. While taking some time off here and there will not destroy their business, giving themselves a severe case of workplace burnout might.

How much does mental health affect physical health?

If a person is chronically stressed, they will end up with chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation weakens overall health and can, therefore, raise the risk of almost any disease there is. Exercise can boost your mental health just as much as your physical health, and effectively dealing with stress can make you physically healthier.

What to avoid when taking mental health days

When taking a mental health day, make sure you use it to de-stress. You might let the whole day go by without doing anything that reduces your stress levels. You might spend the entire day on the internet or watching TV. Television, video games, websites, and social media are not very effective at reducing stress.

These things can be fun and relaxing sometimes, but they are not enough if you are feeling overwhelmed and tired. Something more like going to a gym that has a sauna and a pool is more effective. You want to use your mental health day to get rid of as much stress as possible.

The last thing you want is to go to work the next day and feel just as stressed as before. If you spend the day fishing, you might feel very different. If you spend the day surfing the web, you will end up having to go back to work, feeling just as bad as you did before.

Missing a few days now is better than losing a lot of days in the future. If you force yourself to continue working instead of taking the occasional day off, you might end up with workplace burnout and not be able to work effectively for a long time.

[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/news/news/totalof137millionworkingdayslosttosicknessandinjuryin2016

[2] https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/work-is-biggest-cause-of-stress-in-peoples-lives/#.WcvGDPOGOUl

[3] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/fundamental-facts-about-mental-health-2016.pdf

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-101/pdfs/99-101.pdf?id=10.26616/NIOSHPUB99101

[5] https://www.stress.org/workplace-stress

[6] https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics

[7] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244017697154

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