Everyone gets overwhelmed from time to time, and sometimes you feel like you need a day of self-care to hit the reset button. However, asking for it is easier said than done. If you’re wondering how to request a mental health day off work, you’ve come to the right place.
Dr. Jesse Viner MD, CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Yellowbrick, a nationally-recognized provider of mental health services, tells Bustle, "Asking for a sick day to address a mental health concern is no different than asking for a sick day to address a physical health concern — either request may be brief and general." Taking a mental health day is totally your right, but the way you approach requesting it may depend on your particular workplace culture.
"I think the first step is being clear with yourself about why a mental health day is needed. Is it exhaustion, family issues, [medication] changes, anxiety, etc.? Once you are clear with why YOU need the day, it is easier to communicate that to the powers that be," Julieann Ipsan, LCSW-C, therapist at the Frederick Psychology Center, tells Bustle. On Psychology Today, Psychotherapist Amy Morin outlined three main reasons for taking a mental health day: When you’re distracted by something you need to address; when you’ve been neglecting yourself; and when you need to attend appointments to care for your mental health.
However, before you make your request, Ipsan says: "It is vital to assess if your company and work culture is open to the idea of mental health days. If asking and explaining details will ultimately create more stress, it’s better to take a sick day with no explanation of the mental health needs."
On the Glassdoor blog, Marianne Clyde, founder of the Marianne Clyde Center for Holistic Psychotherapy, concurred that you are not required to explain yourself when using a sick day. "If you take a sick day or two to focus on your mental health, you don’t need to explain yourself. ‘I’m not feeling well and I’ll have to take the day off, but I’ll be back tomorrow,’" is all the explanation that’s necessary, Clyde told Julianne Pepitone for Glassdoor. "If someone presses you, simply explain you’d rather not talk about the details but you’re OK. That’s a legitimate response, but we tend to think we need over-explain."
However, Dr. Viner says, "In an effort to open up dialogue about mental health in the workplace, if an employee feels comfortable with their supervisor, they [can] frame the request for a mental health day in terms of a ‘win/win’ for the employee and employer." This has the added benefit of working to break stigma around mental health, making it easier for your coworkers to take a mental health day, too.
If your company is supportive of work-life balance and mental healthcare, Ispan says there is another way to approach it. "For those lucky enough to have a work culture that supports the value of a mental health day, I would explain what can be gained from a day or two off. Increased productivity and concentration, a friendlier attitude, and better mood in general." Personally, I don’t do my best work when I’m overwhelmed, and having a day to decompress and take care of myself goes a long way toward making me a better friend and colleague.
Last year, an email about taking a mental health day went viral after the reply to said email from the company’s CEO was tweeted. When an employee informed her team she was taking a mental health day, she got the best possible response from her boss who praised her for her candor and reiterated the importance of employees using their sick days to take care of their mental health. While this tweet and its response is an ideal way for companies to support their employees’ mental health, that’s not always the case. This type of support is kind of like finding a unicorn.
"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," Morin wrote for Psychology Today. "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." This means that 83 percent of people are plowing ahead when what they really need is time off to take care of themselves. While we’ve come a long way, one of the reasons people are hesitant to take mental health days is because there is still a stigma surrounding mental health.
Outspoken mental health champions like Carrie Fisher and Lady Gaga have helped me be more open about my own mental health struggles. I am not ashamed to admit that I take medication for anxiety and depression, and I am making strides toward saying "no" and taking days off when I am feeling completely overwhelmed. Sometimes friends will ask me if I am afraid to disclose my mental health struggles publicly because of what people might think, aka the dreaded stigma. The only thing I care about is that by my being honest, other people might feel less alone. The bottom line? You are totally empowered to take a mental health day, and you are under no obligation to explain yourself. Because, when it comes to mental and physical health, it’s important to put yourself first.
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