To call balancing both work and life — in a world that demands that we stay connected to the two in equal measure, 24/7 — an understatement would be putting it mildly. Without a doubt, thanks to social media, and email, and those godforsaken work chat apps, unless you’re one of the dwindling few who have opted to live their lives sans smartphone (who are you?!?), the push-and-pull of a culture that requires an “always-on” mentality can, well, make you mental.
So it’s no surprise that the amount of people who have reported suffering from any number of mental health issues in 2020 has gone through the roof. According to Mental Health America, the number of anxiety screens performed in the U.S. in 2020 increased 93 percent compared to 2019, and depression screens increased 62 percent. Wow.
Naturally, it can all feel pretty overwhelming. So much so, in fact, that you might even want to check out for a bit, and take some time to tend to your own mental health. But can you even take a mental health day from work? Will HR see your “sick day” as you actually being sick if you can’t actually produce a doctor’s note, and don’t have a cough, or even a sniffle?
Yes — You Can Take a Sick Day For Mental Health Reasons
Good news, everyone: These days, many companies have a specific policy which protects their employees if they need to take a day off from work in order to focus on their mental health. “It’s a perfectly acceptable reason for a sick day,” says Carissa Toyama, one of Forward’s leads on its People team. “Mental health is part of an employee’s overall health and wellness, and sick days are available exactly for that reason.”
That said, there are still a lot of people who don’t know that, opting instead to suffer in silence because they’re worried their ailment won’t be taken seriously, or because they’re embarrassed to even bring it up in the first place. Thankfully, there’s good news on that front, too.
No, You Don’t Have To Disclose Why You’re Sick When You Take a Sick Day
Hopefully it’s obvious that there is absolutely nothing wrong with struggling with any sort of mental health issue, and certainly nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s 100-percent okay to want to take care of your mind the way we (hopefully) already take care of our bodies!
That said, some folks are still not totally jazzed with the idea of telling their work that they need a day or more to deal with crippling anxiety because of something in the news that has set you off, for example, and that’s okay, too. “You absolutely don’t need to disclose why you’re taking a sick day,” explains Toyama. “Your mental health is part of your wellbeing, and needing time off to address it should be treated similarly to if you had a debilitating cold or flu for a couple of days and you needed time off to get physically healthy.”
Just Remember to Over-Communicate if You’re Going to Need More Than One Day
That fact, that you should feel perfectly comfortable talking to HR about needing a mental-health day, is important because, should you need a few days or more for self care, you’ll definitely need to discuss with management. “If you’re going to be taking an extended period of time off you might need to work with your HR team to go on leave,” Toyama advises.”In those situations, medical documentation might be required, but it won’t be shared with your manager.”
So how should you ask your boss or HR about needing time off for your mental health? “It could be as simple as, ‘Hey, I need this time. Here’s my medical documentation demonstrating that I do need that time.’ But the most important thing you can and should do is, spend some time working with your manager so you can plan with them to ensure that your work is covered for the day, just to make sure it’s a really seamless and guilt-free type of time off.”
Don’t feel guilt, ever, about needing and asking for some time to work on your mental health. Because a healthy employee — of both body, and mind — is a happy employee.