The Significance of Mental Health Sick Days

Mental health sick days have been brought up a lot more frequently recently, and most people agree that mental health is an important component in overall wellness. Taking a day (or more if needed) to address non-physical health counts as a mental health sick day. This is not necessarily limited to going to therapy or other mental health provider, but can also include taking a day to get organized, or practice other self-care routines in order to mitigate the impact that stress, anxiety or other symptoms can have on our wellness.

Since we understand that mental health is important for employers and employees, why don’t we take time off to focus on mental health in the same way that we take sick days when we have physical ailments? A 2016 American Psychological Association survey found that less than half of working Americans say their workplace supports an employee’s well-being. While there are a lot of contributing factors, the pervasive stigma around mental health is one of the most impactful. The general attitude that employees should “deal with it” and “push through” to not miss work for mental health reasons and that those who do take time off are weak or somehow less invested or interested in their work is far from the truth.

The 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. Reduced productivity, absenteeism, and increased healthcare costs are just a few of the ways mental health issues cost employers money. A study by the World Health Organization found that such disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion in lost productivity each year.

Many employers offer paid sick days for their staff; however, formal mental health sick days are far less common. It is the assumption that employees will use sick days for both physical and mental health, but with most employers offering an average of six to ten paid sick days, this is simply not sufficient for individuals living with mental health issues. Mental health is often handled on a case-by-case basis by companies, which creates challenges and furthers the concept that mental and physical health should be handled differently.

Here are a few ways that you can promote better mental health practices in your workplace:

  1. Trust your staff- While some people think that mental health days are just an excuse to stay home, it’s vital that you trust your staff to take time to address their mental health when needed. Your company has hired everyone for a reason, and questioning someone’s work ethic because of mental health is unfair to employees and creates an office culture that doesn’t support overall wellness.
  2. Lead by example- If you manage a team, they’re looking to you to set expectations. If they see you in the office when you’re sick, they will likely follow suit, even if it’s not best for their well-being. By taking a day to focus on yourself, and being open about it, you are telling your team that it’s okay for them to do the same. This is especially important for team members who may be struggling with their mental health.
  3. Have honest conversations- Being open about mental health in general, or your own to the extent that you are comfortable can help break down the stigma. You never know who else could be struggling to cope while being a productive employee and you may inspire them to seek help if they need it.

Talking to human resources about mental health can really help. They can help connect you to support and resources, and facilitate conversations with your manager when necessary to ensure that you are able to create a plan to balance work with mental health.

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