What are mental health days and when should you take one?

Taking time off work to care for your physical health is a standard practise but doing the same for your mental health can feel like more of a grey area.

Even though many employers have rules on personal or mental health days, it can feel challenging to request time off when all you need is a mental break. You may end up forcing yourself to go even though you’re uncomfortable or feel bad about using one of your few leave days. However, when you’re overly worried, stressed or anxious, both you and your job suffer, sometimes resulting in problems that might harm both your performance and your co-workers. Maintaining your general health and well-being, both within and outside of the office, requires knowing when to take a mental health day for yourself.

When to take a mental health day

It might be all too simple to convince yourself that experiencing mental health issues doesn’t warrant time off from work. Why stay off work if you are physically capable of doing so and being paid?

But keep in mind that your entire wellbeing depends just as much on your mental health as it does on your physical health. Your mind needs time to relax and heal, just like any illness or physical suffering does.

Consider taking the day off if you wake up feeling particularly agitated, depressed, or nervous to the point that it interferes with your ability to operate. Of course, sometimes you just feel unexplainably “off.” It’s OK to take the day to yourself then, too. Use your personal judgement and listen to your mind and body. Everyone needs a mental health day from time to time.

How to tell your manager you want a mental health day

For many people, their job openly accepts mental health days and, in this case, you can be open and honest with your manager. Unfortunately, the debate over mental health days is still prevalent in many companies. Meaning, what you say to your boss is important. Here are some points to consider when talking to your manager about taking a mental health day.

1. Acknowledge that you deserve the day. This will make it easier to communicate your needs to your supervisor and make your intentions clear. There is power in naming your stressors, and you’ll have a concrete idea of what you need to address during your time off.

2. Consider your workplace leave policies. Depending on your workplace, asking for a mental health day can be as simple as requesting a sick day. Familiarise yourself with your rights prior to requesting a mental health day.

3. Share only what you’re comfortable with. If your workplace isn’t as receptive to employees taking time off for mental health, don’t feel the need to over-explain yourself. Simply saying you have to deal with a personal matter should do the trick. However, if you’re comfortable telling your supervisor or HR (Human Resources) department why you’re taking the day off, you can! It helps to plan what you would like to say to your supervisor beforehand, so you are clear about what you are asking. After your request is approved, you can start to think about what you want to accomplish or take care of on your day off. Here’s an example of how to tell your employer you need a mental health day.

Hi [Employer],
I need to take today off for my mental health. Hopefully, then I can be back at 100% for tomorrow
Many Thanks,
[Your Name]


4. Remember that your day is for you. Once your request is approved, you can focus on what you need to decompress and take care of yourself. If you need to sit on the couch all day, do it! Getting outside is also a great option if the weather allows but remember that the day is specifically for you to recoup from the stressors of work.

How to spend your mental health day

Just like you’d treat any sick day, do things that make you feel better. Spend your mental health day doing things you know are beneficial to your mental and physical health. If spending the day relaxing on the sofa or going for a walk in the park will help you, do them! But often spending the day doing tasks like laundry, dishes and errands can help clear your mind and reduce the mental load. There is no right or wrong way to spend your mental health day, do what you need to do to feel better.

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