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Taking a mental health day from work: is it okay?

By Guest Post | 07 January 2019

When was the last time you took a day off to focus on your mental health? If the answer is “I can’t remember”, chances are you’re part of the 79% of Australians who haven’t taken time off work in the past 12 months due to stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health problem.
Mental health may not be a topic most people are comfortable discussing, but it’s a more prevalent issue today than many of us realise.
According to a report by beyondblue it is estimated that 45% of Australians will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Stress-related depression and anxiety are a growing problem as we’re expected to work longer hours and through tighter deadlines. Stress can creep up on us, which is why taking a mental health day is so important.
A mental health day can help you reset your mind and give you the headspace to deal with the build-up of work stress and perhaps gain a more positive perspective.

When should I take a mental health day?

taking a mental health day 
We all have those days when we’d rather be anywhere else but in the office. Whether you’re experiencing anxiety or want to avoid certain conflicts at work, it can be tempting to call in sick.
However, if you are planning to take a mental health day, it is a good idea to plan ahead rather than making a spontaneous decision to chuck a sickie. If you’re stressed or anxious, calling in sick will reinforce this habit every time you’re not feeling up to going to work. Instead, plan your day ahead of time and avoid lying in bed all day. Try to do activities that will bring balance back into your life, like going for a walk, meditating, getting a massage, talking to a counsellor or friend, reading a book or preparing a healthy meal.
This way, you are taking advantage the day to really work on your mental health and improve your relationship with yourself.

What do I tell my boss?

taking a mental health day 
Mental health can be a tricky topic to broach with anyone—let alone your employer, but the best thing you can do is tell the truth. You will be surprised how understanding most people can be, especially if you are open and honest. You do not have to go into detail about how you’re feeling, you can simply say “I’m taking a day to focus on my mental health”, or “I’m feeling overwhelmed and I just need some time to reset myself”.
This also allows your boss to see where they might be able to delegate certain tasks to others if you are feeling overloaded with work, or give you the opportunity to focus on projects you enjoy working on, rather than ones which stress you out. Of course, there will always be some level of stress at work, and not all stress is necessarily bad. However, by eliminating some of the pressure, you’re much more likely to find satisfaction in your work.

What employers should do

taking a mental health day
 If you’re managing a team, chances are you’re going to have to deal with unexpected absences. It’s important to consider your team’s overall productivity as well as how their mental health may affect their performance and take measures to prevent stress from building up.
If you notice an employee taking an unusual amount of days off, or struggling to keep up with the demands of their role, it might be time for you to step in. While you may not be a therapist, at the very least you can open up the channels of communication and let them know you understand and you’re here to help. Regular one-on-one catch-ups are a good idea, as team members will be more likely to talk things through if you give them the opportunity. The best thing you can do as a boss is approach your team with consideration and understanding.

Take time to find equilibrium

taking a mental health day

 If you are dealing with a clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other mental health issue it is oftentimes impossible to get through the day without feeling the weight of your thoughts and emotions. Mental health issues affect us in the same way a physical illness such as the flu does, and will need to be treated by a professional.
If, however, you are dealing with the situational stress of your working environment it’s important to acknowledge how much you can take on without reaching a point of burnout. Make your mental health a priority everyday, rather than just occasionally. Put yourself in the right headspace by meditating daily, doing simple breathing exercises, getting regular hours of sleep, or going for a hike out in the fresh air.
By doing these things regularly and making them part of your daily routine, you are making your mental health a priority and avoiding taking spontaneous sick days.
While there are more positive ways to approach taking a day off for your mental health, you should never feel bad or guilty for taking a mental health day. Sometimes unexpected things happen, and we need those days to get us through those difficult periods. It does more harm than good to pretend you are fine when you are not, so make sure you talk to someone about how you’re feeling and don’t be afraid to create time for yourself.

Keen on learning more about mental health?

Interested in learning more about mental health? You can check out our Certificate IV in Mental Health which can give you the specialist skills you need to help clients improve their mental health.

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