How to ask for a mental health day, and why you should!

18.02.2019
A person under stress

Four out of five Aussies don’t take mental health days, yet, stress is prevalent throughout the country. So how do you ask for a mental health day?

It’s one of life’s modern paradoxes - we need mental health days when we feel stressed, but asking for mental health days makes us stressed. It’s not like asking for a day off when you’ve got a bad cold, right?

Wrong.

Mental health days are becoming increasingly important in Australia as more of us suffer from stress-related ailments. In fact, NAB statistics reckon our well-being has dropped since the end of 2017, and a quarter of Aussies report they feel “high” levels of stress!

So when you’re burning out, consider a mental health day from work. Let’s explore some of the reasons a mental health day could help, and importantly, how to ask for one.

Why and when you should take mental health days

Stress is not just in your head, and even the toughest of us can feel physical symptoms from the condition - symptoms such as headaches, heart palpitations, fatigue and more, according to the VIC government’s Better Health Channel.

But there’s a negative stigma around mental health: “get some sleep and she’ll be right”, “it’s all in your head”, “it’s not a real illness”. These stigmas make people less likely to seek help, to the point that only one in five Australian workers take mental health days, according to a beyondblue report.

So, the main reason you should take a mental health day? You’re not weak for doing so, and it’s OK to need one! And if you’re a leader at work, it could set a great example for other employees.

The benefits of a mental health day include:

  • Time to rest. Rest and relaxation are keys to fighting stress, says the QLD government.
  • Time to work on yourself. That same QLD page says exercise is another way to fight stress. Having a day for yourself can give you time to get outside. Experiencing green spaces - even just your local park - can have mental health benefits, according to a litany of papers, including from researchers at the University of Essex.
  • Time to speak with a professional. Speaking with a therapist is a well-known aid for treating mental health ailments.

But here’s the important thing. Mental health days shouldn’t just be one-offs, nor do you need a diagnosed condition to justify taking one.

“That’s the whole aim of [a mental health day]: to get it before it becomes a mental health issue,” principal organisational psychologist Rachel Clements said to ABC. “Taking a mental health day is a proactive thing.”

How to ask for a mental health day

  • Plan in advance: You can take them spontaneously, but planning a mental health day in advance will allow you to organise your workload so nothing suffers while you’re away, causing anxious thoughts when you’re meant to be resting.
  • Check your company policy: Your company may have a mental health policy in place, in which case you will have set rules on how to request one. If there’s none, the general sick leave policy will likely apply - although it never hurt to ask (see our next points below).
  • Talk with your boss: If you have a good relationship with your boss, be open and honest. Australian legislation requires businesses to provide a mentally healthy place to work, and if taking a mental health day will help you be more productive, they will likely have no problem. If nothing else, it helps them better understand what makes you stressed so it can be mitigated.

What if I am in a workplace that won’t understand?

If you feel your workplace has toxic attitudes to mental health, there is a stigma attached, or you don’t feel comfortable being open or honest, you can request sick leave as normal. You do not need to tell people about your mental health, although you may have to provide a medical certificate if your company policy requires it.

Clinical adviser to beyondblue Dr Grant Blashki said to ABC that people should go straight to their GP if a certificate is required. Doctors can provide the necessary documentation for mental health days, and keep the specifics of your ‘medical condition’ quiet if desired.

So for the good of your well-being and your ongoing happiness at work, consider taking a mental health day the next time you’re suffering stress or other mental health conditions.

Sources:

  1. https://business.nab.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Australian-Wellbeing-Survey-Q1-2018.pdf
  2. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/work-related-stress
  3. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/wps.20383
  4. https://www.headsup.org.au/docs/default-source/resources/bl1270-report---tns-the-state-of-mental-health-in-australian-workplaces-hr.pdf?sfvrsn=8
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5663018/
  6. https://www.abc.net.au/life/how-to-take-mental-health-day/10007706
  7. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/talking-to-your-employer-about-illness

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