When To Take a Mental Health Day (and How To Do It)

31 Jan ‘22
2 min
Editorial Board OpenUp
illustratie van vrouw met to do list

When we’re sick, we stay home from work. That’s a given. But when we’re feeling mentally under the weather, we often find it difficult to do that. However, according to psychologist Jan Helder, it’s extremely important to take a mental health day every once in a while.

 

In fact, he can’t stress this enough.

 

How you and your employer benefit when you take a mental health day

 

The idea of a mental health day is simple: You take a day off to reduce stress and protect your mental health. “Every day, we devote a substantial amount of energy and attention to our work. Sometimes you might feel like a degree of tension is building up in your body as a result of this.

 

Maybe this is due to the combined effect of a busy period at work and a stressful home life,” explains Jan. “In order to avoid potentially becoming overwhelmed by stress, you can opt to take a mental health day. Either take one as soon as you need it, or schedule one in advance.”

 

This is good for you and it’s good for your employer. “A day off gives you the space you need to catch your breath and calmly reflect on your work and home situation. You’ll return to work feeling energized and refreshed. This can help to alleviate any mental health challenges you might be struggling with,” adds Jan. “As a result, you’re investing in your own health and in your work performance.”

 

Being honest about needing a mental health day

 

So, the question that comes up is: How do you explain this at work? Do you simply tell your colleagues or employer that you’re taking the day off, should you call in sick, or be honest about the fact that you need a day to yourself to reduce your stress levels?

 

“Someone I know recently told me that she needed to take a mental health day. Since she didn’t feel like explaining this to her manager, she just said that she had the flu,” says Jan.

 

And she’s not alone. An American study found that 62% of employees are afraid that their boss will judge them for being honest. They’d rather be vague about the reason for their absence or make up an excuse.

 

“I get that in a way,” says Jan. “But I wouldn’t recommend this approach. More than anything, you should be honest about how you feel. When you’re honest about your emotions, about your energy levels, and how these elements affect your work performance, you come across as authentic and self-possessed.

 

Also interesting: Lacking Motivation? How to Stay Inspired and Engaged at Work

 

What should you do if something is preventing you from being honest?

 

If you’re anxious about mentioning that you’d like to take a day off for the sake of your mental health, then it’s worth exploring why you feel this way. Is it caused by the organization you work for or is it something more personal?

 

Do you feel like your organization doesn’t offer the right kind of environment to have conversations around this topic? Then discuss it with at least one person you really trust. This could be an immediate colleague, a counselor or someone in HR.

 

Jan: “If nobody ever raises these issues then the status quo never changes. This means that step one is speaking to another person. Because let’s be totally honest here… If the status quo doesn’t change, is this really the right organization for you?”

 

It’s also possible that your own personal barriers are standing in the way; maybe you’re just assuming that your manager will have a negative reaction, for example.

 

“But if you’re honest about what’s going on, then they might surprise you – in a good way. Enter into this conversation with conviction. Stand by your choice to take a day off for the sake of your mental health. You’re not a freeloader and you’re not making a big deal out of nothing! If you take it seriously, then your manager will take it seriously too.”

 

Do you still feel anxious about approaching your colleagues or managers to talk about this topic? Then follow these four steps to effective communication.

 

What can you do as an HR professional or manager?

 

As an HR professional or manager, it helps if you normalize taking a mental health day. “Shout from the rooftops that it’s a great idea to take some time off. My previous employer did that in a fun way. Employees were given one extra day off that they could devote to their happiness. We were encouraged to let people know how we were spending it. In the main hall, there was a TV screen that displayed photos of Keith at a theme park and Erica having lunch at a Michelin-star restaurant,” says Jan.

 

A ‘happy day’ like this is no substitute for a mental health day. Few employees who take a day off for the sake of reducing their stress levels will want to see it reflected back at them on a TV screen. But these types of initiatives can help to normalize taking mental health days.

 

Also, take a look at the company culture and the way that employees handle time off. Are you noticing any red flags, for example lots of sick leave, or loads of employees either using up all their vacation days early in the year or not taking any at all? Then it might be time for change.

 

An open and transparent corporate culture makes it easier for employees to be open about their mental health and can help them to take mental health days without any guilt.

 

“At OpenUp, if someone takes a mental health day, then nobody acts like it’s weird. We discuss it openly with each other and actually encourage it,” says Jan.

 

Would you like to discuss this subject further? Then get to know Jan or one of our other psychologists in a no-obligation session where you can talk everything through.