| 12 May 2021
It’s an interesting concept that a day off can be taken without guilt for a headache, but if you’re having a full-blown panic attack or episode of depression you feel you still have to go to work. So how do you know if you need to take mental health days and what should you do with them?
We’ve all been there, woken up with a pounding head, sore throat and a nose thinking it’s about to take on a marathon. We pick up the phone, make our apologies for calling in sick and roll over to get some well-needed rest. Now imagine you wake up but this time your heart is pounding, chest is tight and your thoughts are racing. What do you do? That’s right, go to work.
It’s an interesting concept that a day off can be taken without guilt for a headache, but if you’re having a full-blown panic attack or an episode of depression you feel you still have to go to work. So how do you know if you need to take a ‘mental health day’ and what should you do with it?
Every single one of us has mental health. You reading this now, me writing the article, our mental health is as present as our physical. For a long time, there has been a misconception that you need to encounter mental illness before you have mental health. Despite some startling facts like 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues of some type (that’s a quarter of everyone you know). That suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 55 years old and stress is predicted to become the next health epidemic of the 21st Century.
But…I am not mentally ill
You don’t need a diagnosed condition to take a mental health day. Just like physical health, our well-being generally fluctuates along a spectrum depending on many factors. For our minds, these factors can range from outside stressors (work or family demands, money worries), our capacity to deal with those stressors, our diet and nutrition to how well we’re sleeping at night. All these things (and some) contribute to how we’re feeling mentally and how we can cope with the different demands that are on us. Taking a mental health day ultimately is giving yourself time to recharge and take some steps towards somewhere in that spectrum where you’re better placed to manage and ultimately to do your job. It doesn’t mean you have to go and seek professional support, however, if you’re concerned that you might need more than just a day to reset or you’re finding yourself needing frequent mental health days it would be a good idea to have a chat with your GP or mental health professional.
It can be daunting approaching your boss to ask for a mental health day, although more companies are starting to encourage the use of them and see the benefit of supporting employee wellbeing, the truth is the majority of businesses do not view mental health as a valid reason to take time off without a formal diagnosis. Ultimately you know your boss and the working culture better than we do, if management is approachable and understanding then speak to them about needing a day or a few to focus on your wellbeing. However, if you know supporting mental health isn’t high on the company agenda, then use a sick day. Unless you are planning on taking a few weeks off, in the UK you can self certify for up to 7days without a doctor’s note.
So, when do I take one?
There is no checklist of things you have to feel before taking a day off to focus on your mental health, however, if you’re frequently feeling one, some, or all of the following then it could be a good idea to take one.
It’s natural to have waves of feeling overwhelmed when we see the deadline, or we take a peek at the ever-growing to-do list stuck to the fridge. This tips into being unhealthy when the feeling comes and goes frequently, you feel it constantly or feel overwhelmed at things that you would normally be able to manage, this could be an indicator of anxiety.
You can feel drained both physically and emotionally. If you’re waking up feeling like you never went to sleep in the first place and having to force yourself to get up and start the day. Or you might feel overly fragile, on the brink of being upset for no reason or feel empty of emotion and motivation to engage with people. This can be a good sign that your mental health might need a little TLC.
Flare-up of existing mental health conditions
If you have existing mental health conditions, it’s really important to pay attention and respond to the signs your mind and body might be telling you when things are getting on top of you. Our minds are great at letting us know when we need to take some time out, we just need to get better at listening.
Mental health during a pandemic
The Covid-19 pandemic also had a massive impact on people’s mental health, with increased levels of anxiety, insomnia and depression. Threats to health and life, mistrust and social anxiety, panic-buying, restrictive communication cues, and widespread social isolation are a dangerous combination.
It is hard to say who has been impacted the most seriously by the restrictions of the pandemic; the long-term effects have yet to be seen. Individual resilience, circumstances, and the kind of support each person had within their home or social ‘bubble’ means that no two people will have experienced the pandemic in quite the same way.