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Updated Oct 20, 2023

The Critical Importance of Mental Health Days

If you'd call out for a fever, why not for a panic attack? Here's how to benefit from mental health days.

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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Many employees are afraid to call out of work when they feel emotionally ill. Typically, this is not the company’s fault but rather a personal struggle; sometimes workers believe they should push through or distract themselves. But there’s a fine line between “giving in” and looking after yourself. Business owners should encourage staffers to take care of their mental health just as they would their physical health. Granting mental health days is one way to do that.

What are mental health days? 

Mental health days are sick days spent focusing on mental health. They can be used for a variety of concerns related to your mental health and well-being. Whether you take the day off for a panic attack, depression, mounting exhaustion or work burnout, mental health days can have a positive personal and professional impact.

“Self-care is vital to your success – not only on the job but in life,” said Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. “If you’re not sleeping well, feeling depressed, sad, alone, overwhelmed … it’s completely acceptable – and, in fact, should be encouraged – to take mental health days to take care of yourself.”

Mental health should be treated with as much importance as physical health, Salemi said. If you’d call out for a fever, why not for a panic attack? Mental health conditions are chronic illnesses, and employees should not be afraid to take the time they need to address and treat any symptoms that arise.

Why are mental health days important? 

A mental health day allows employees to rest and recharge so they can bring their happiest and most productive selves to work. Most people won’t get much done at work if they’re feeling overly exhausted, depressed or anxious. Taking a day off for self-care can be a quick way to reset and stave off burnout or debilitating stress.

Mental health days are also beneficial to employers. While a day off may result in a temporary decrease in output, combatting employee stress in the workplace results in better long-term productivity. Work stress can negatively impact employee job performance, engagement levels and the company culture overall. It’s in the best interest of the business owner and their staff to prioritize mental health and use mental health days when necessary.

Did You Know?Did you know
The Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees with mental health or psychiatric conditions. Extra time off from work may qualify as an accommodation under the law. See more ADA regulations you may not know about.

How should you spend a mental health day?

Employees struggling with their mental health can follow the below tips for making the most of a mental health day. These strategies are also beneficial for business owners in need of their own mental health days.

1. Acknowledge your thoughts and emotions.

If you’re having a hard time, your mind might scream at you. Or, if you’re lucky, it will merely whisper in your ear throughout the day, telling you your emotions and reactions are invalid. Let those thoughts exist. Don’t actively invite them in, but don’t kick them out either, Salemi said.

“A common reason why many refuse to take mental health days is because they feel guilty, ashamed, weak and a million other overwhelming emotions,” she said. “Their thoughts convince them that they’re giving in, playing victim, being dramatic, when really, it’s quite the opposite.”

By taking a mental health day, you are choosing to help yourself get better. If you woke up with a migraine, would you force yourself to follow the usual routine of your day? Odds are, you’d acknowledge the pain, call out sick and do whatever it took to feel better. This should be no different.

2. Give yourself what you need.

Admitting you’re struggling is critical. After acknowledging this struggle, be your own best friend and do only what you think will ease your emotional strain.

Ask yourself what will make you feel better at this moment. Rest? A good book? A shopping spree? Lunch with your sister or an old friend? Whatever it may be, focus on what you need and how you can fill that void in a healthy way.

“If you’re doing what you need to take care of yourself in a way that matters most, that is how your mental health day should be spent,” Salemi said. “There’s no right or wrong answer on what you do with the time. The point is, you are taking one, and you’re recharging your batteries.”

3. Don’t worry about judgment.

You might be concerned about what your colleagues or managers are thinking. Do they believe you’re slacking on a project? Do they think you used your mental health day as an excuse to skip work?

Their opinions are largely irrelevant. No one can fully understand what you’re dealing with except you. Be willing to accept that, and be willing to accept yourself. “Normal” is not universal; it is unique to every individual.

Additionally, you don’t even need to label your day off. If you’re uncomfortable calling it what it is, tell your employer that you’re under the weather (because you are!), and treat your day off as you would a typical sick day.

Mental health days encourage overall health and wellness, improving work-life balance. Taking advantage of them will help both you and your company in the long run, so don’t let anyone (including yourself) convince you that you’re making a poor choice, Salemi said.

“If you’re reluctant to take a mental health day, just know it’s highly unlikely you will ever regret taking one,” she said. “Go for it, and realize that your employer also reaps the benefits when you return to work feeling more clearheaded, less stressed and more refreshed.”

How do you encourage mental health days?

In order for staffers to fully enjoy the benefits of mental health days, they need to feel comfortable taking them. For employees, this can be as simple as changing their mindset around mental health and wellness. We often think of mental health as a lesser area of health, but it should be prioritized just as much as physical health. Some people even experience physical symptoms when their mental health is not properly cared for.

From an employer standpoint, it is important to build a company culture that encourages employees to take time off when needed. Managers need to be accommodating and accepting of sick leave and time-off requests. Offer a flexible PTO policy that lets workers know they needn’t only take off for vacation. 

Then, set an example. Business owners can help remove the stigma surrounding mental health in the workforce by being honest with employees when they need their own mental health days. That will inspire staffers to readjust their own thinking on this issue. [Related article: Stress Management Is Key to Keeping a Business (and Owner) Alive]

How do you implement a mental health policy?

Many of us spend more time at work than we do with our loved ones. As a result, the workplace can be a place of connection and inclusion, but it can also negatively affect a person’s mental health. Companies with good mental health policies care for their team’s well-being and provide a place where everyone feels supported.

In addition to offering mental health days, a mental health policy could include information on counseling benefits, appropriate workplace behavior and non-discrimination. Many workers even consider mental health support one of the job benefits that keep them happy, so it’s worth outlining what your company does and doesn’t offer.

Implement a mental health policy just like you would any other human resources initiative. Consider including it in your employee handbook, and when onboarding new hires, make sure they are aware of the ability to take a mental health day. Treat mental health days like any other part of your employee benefits package. If you use one of the best HR outsourcing companies, they likely have mental health day guidelines and literature they can share.

What companies stand out for their mental health policies?

Need inspiration or a precedent to follow? Deloitte is one company leading the way for mental health policies in the workplace. The company says it provides training, education, information and resources designed to improve the mental, physical and emotional health of all employees.

Unilever, a giant in the consumer goods industry, is also tackling the issue of employee mental health. The company reports that it has worked to create a culture of openness and support around mental health through employee workshops, manager training on mental health, and encouraging employees to ask for help when needed. They also offer an employee assistance app to help workers access resources for support. 

Microsoft has its own employee assistance program (EAP) called Microsoft Cares, which provides support to employees experiencing mental health struggles, among other tools. It’s designed to facilitate access to mental health treatment services and stress management programs for Microsoft employees. 

An EAP can be a great addition to an employee health and wellness plan. EAPs help employees connect with counselors, support groups and other mental health resources.

Many companies have also started offering more generous PTO policies to encourage employees to take care of their mental health and well-being. Major companies like Netflix and LinkedIn have expanded their time-off policies to remove barriers for employees who need time off to prioritize family, mental health and more.

For business owners mindful of the importance of stress-free work environments, mental health days are a vital way to reduce workplace stress for everyone.

Kaylyn McKenna contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article. 

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Adam Uzialko, Business Strategy Insider and Senior Editor
Adam Uzialko, senior editor of Business News Daily, is not just a professional writer and editor — he’s also an entrepreneur who knows firsthand what it’s like building a business from scratch. His experience as co-founder and managing editor of a digital marketing company imbues his work at Business News Daily with a perspective grounded in the realities of running a small business. Since 2015, Adam has reviewed hundreds of small business products and services, including contact center solutions, email marketing software and text message marketing software. Adam uses the products, interviews users and talks directly to the companies that make the products and services he covers. He specializes in digital marketing topics, with a focus on content marketing, editorial strategy and managing a team.
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