“Every person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solution searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” – Maya Angelou
Life can be stressful. When we are physically ill, we take a sick day, but what if we are mentally drained? Is it OK to take a “mental health day”? Psychiatric nurse practitioner Tiffany Pottkotter, PMHNP-BC, answers that question with a resounding “Yes”.
Benefits of a Mental Health Day
Taking time off from work is an important part of maintaining a healthy work-life balance. However, Pottkotter advises, “If you begin to increase your need for mental health days, it may be necessary to be evaluated both medically and psychologically for any underlying conditions.”
Pottkotter suggests considering a day off when you start to experience feelings of extreme anxiety or apathy about work, your performance starts to decline, you have an inability to manage emotions or you experience insomnia.
But don’t take your cues from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off on how to use it. Pottkotter recommends avoiding unhealthy activities on a day that’s meant to recharge your mental well-being. “Instead, use it to catch up on sleep, spend time with friends or family, exercise, or just get things done around the house,” she states. “Plan ahead how you want to spend your day off and above all, avoid guilt!”
Maintaining Your Mental Health
Pottkotter recommends talking with employers regarding a “mental health day” before taking time off from work, as employers may offer sick, vacation or personal days. Typically, employers prefer you schedule these in advance so they can make reasonable accommodations to cover your absence.
“If your situation becomes chronic, check with your employer to determine any Employee Assistance Program (EAP) benefits that can provide free counseling sessions. If you have a chronic physical or mental health condition, it may also be beneficial to look into your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Also know your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects employees at businesses with 15 or more workers from discrimination due to mental illness.”
There are times when a ‘mental health day’ cannot be predetermined or planned. “Just as physical illness can overcome us suddenly, so can stress, anxiety, or depression,” says Pottkotter. “Keep an open dialogue with a trusted supervisor. It is important to keep your mental health in the “maintenance” phase to avoid letting it get to the “crisis” phase.”