The importance of mental wellness is widely ignored. This can be gauged by the fact that although it is professionally acceptable to call in sick when you are physically ill, there is no concept of taking a day off for the sake of mental wellness.

This ignorance may seem astonishing when compared with the fact that the World Health Organization recently listed depression as the leading cause of disability around the world.

Psychologist Dr Vivenne Sullivan, from Melbourne-based Healthy Minds Allied Services says, “mental wellness is often overlooked”.

A survey was conducted by ComPsych, employee assistance program provider. The results revealed that 30 percent of employees took a day off because of family or relationship issues. Another 20 percent attributed missing a day to workload issues.

When stressors become overwhelming in life, it may be counterproductive to show up for work. It may hamper your creativity and affect your focus. Taking a day off will help rejuvenate your body and mind and increase your work performance. The survey showed that 82% of the employees admit to taking mental health days simply to rejuvenate themselves.

Dr Sullivan says, “Traditionally employers have focused on physical health. While this is a key obligation, under Worksafe it’s also essential to consider psychological wellbeing. One in five Australians will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.”

This was the reason why the World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH), inaugurated the mental health day on 10th October, 1992. The initiative behind this day was to “bring attention to mental illness and its major effects on peoples’ lives worldwide.”  So the extra day that you get off from work can be legitimate and is often termed as a “mental health day”. But now medical experts say that in order to remain productive and to enhance performance, workers should take a mental health day off at least three times a year.

“A Mental Health Day is a fantastic initiative that works to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, increase community knowledge and promotes mental wellbeing,” says Dr. Sullivan.

Brandon M. Smith an expert in workplace health and founder of points out the four signs which show that you need a break from work:

  1. You’re suddenly not sleeping well or have developed insomnia.
  2. You can’t shake last week’s stress. In other words, your level of stress is greater than your current stressors.
  3. You’re snippy with your spouse, your kids or your co-workers.
  4. You feel a general sense of apathy and don’t care about your work.

Refugee lawyer, Natalie Young, 29, from Paddington in Sydney’s East, says, “I pulled a sickie last week. I also study my Masters part-time and had an assignment due. With work, university and social commitments, the stress of keeping up with it all became too much. I called in sick to finish the essay, so it wasn’t like I was slacking off. Though by the afternoon, I did treat myself to some ‘me’ time with a long run through Centennial Park. I work hard and long hours and am committed to my work, so while I did experience pangs of guilt, I felt I was entitled to it,”

Organisations like Google and General Electric in the US encourage their workers to take “mental health days”. The UK has a culture for duvet (doona) days, which are days when you don’t have the energy to get out of bed to commute.

Owner of a Sydney-based IT firm, Luke Russel with six employees and over 200 clients on the books says, “Whatever you want to call it, I don’t see why taking the odd day off to recharge shouldn’t be counted as sick leave. The repercussions of stress in the workplace are no different from a physical illness. An employee is going to be less productive and “infect” other staff if they are stressed and unhappy.”

photo credit: Julien Haler 

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