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How to Take a Mental Health Sick Day

Last year, Australians took 3.74 million mental health ‘sick days’. A Beyond Blue report revealed one in five of us took time off work due to mental health issues and illness.
While the tide is turning and more employers are encouraging their staff to speak up, some of us may still face the stigma. Wondering how to take a mental health sick day? Read on.

What is a mental health sick day?

It’s considered normal to take time off when you have the flu, a tummy bug, or just feel a bit rough. But the Australian (and global) workforce has only recently started accepting mental illness as a reason to stay at home.
It’s tricky, because mental illness and issues often don’t present with obvious physical symptoms. Your boss can’t hear your anxiety or depression over the phone. He can’t see you stuck in bed, unable to get up. There are no tell-tale signs that you should rest up until you’re feeling better.
But that’s essentially what a mental health sick day is: taking time out to rest your mind, get the treatment and support you need, so you can go back to work mentally fitter.

When should you take a mental health day?

There are several signs that it’s time to take a day off work for your mental health. These include:
  • Irritability and frustration with colleagues or the work environment.
  • Feeling overwhelmed.
  • Heightened stress
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Feeling teary
  • Experiencing symptoms of anxiety
There are many more signs and symptoms, but these are some of the most common that relate to work. Essentially, if your mental health is affecting your ability to work (just as a dodgy stomach or migraine would keep you from your desk), it may be time to take a break.

How to take a mental health day

Some companies are more supportive than others. Bigger organisations have mental health woven in to their HR policies. But smaller companies may be unaccommodating – which is why many of us are still afraid to speak up or attribute time off to our mental health.
However, it’s important to seek support when you need it. You could speak with an external counsellor or GP, and ask for a mental health ‘sick note’. Schedule a confidential chat with your manager, let them know what’s going on, why you need time off, and how much time you think you’ll need. Give them the chance to offer suggestions, or find ways to support you.
If you don’t get the response you want, consider approaching your HR manager. Mental health affects all people at all levels of management, so they should have the tools and strategies to help you – and work around your time off, as they would if you had a physical illness.

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