• There's no right or wrong way to spend a mental health day. (Hero Images/Getty)
Taking the occasional mental health day is more important than you might think.
By
Megan Blandford

10 Oct 2017 - 9:48 AM  UPDATED 10 Oct 2017 - 9:48 AM

“I’m taking a mental health day,” we used to laugh to our friends when we just wanted a day to slack off.

These days, though, taking a mental health day off work isn’t considered lazy; it’s increasingly being recognised as a necessary part of maintaining a healthy life.  

Let’s get one thing clear first: looking after your mental health doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness. Keeping your mental wellbeing on track is important for us all, whether we have depression or anxiety, or simply need some time out.

“It’s important to have time to rest, recuperate and proactively address any mental health concerns you have.”

“A lot of us are living with prolonged and chronic stress, we’re overwhelmed and frazzled, and there are physical and psychological repercussions from that,” says SANE Australia psychologist Suzanne Leckie.

“It’s important to have time to rest, recuperate and proactively address any mental health concerns you have.”

Mental health days: easier said than done

Workplaces, more and more, understand the importance of looking after their employees’ mental health.

“A work environment isn’t always compatible with a person’s psychological wellbeing,” says Leckie.

“There are some progressive organisations out there who are acknowledging and supporting this; at SANE we have a week of reflection leave each year, to devote time to our physical and mental wellbeing.”

“There are lots of organisations, though, where (a mental health day) wouldn’t go down terribly well. 

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Because of this reality, it’s still far harder for us to call in a mental health day than it is for a physical illness.

“We attribute physical illnesses to external things – an accident or a virus – rather than as a personal failing, which is how we often still think about a psychological issue," says Leckie. 

Culturally, it’s difficult too: we’re all programmed to prioritise a strong work ethic, and taking a day off – not for being sick or taking a scheduled holiday – has us feeling extremely guilty.

"You need to take the time to ensure you have time with loved ones, time to be active, to get some sleep, and look after your nutrition.”

“There are variations within this cultural message,” says Leckie. “It depends on your work environment, your manager, and the industry you’re in as to how hard it will be to take a day off.”

But whether you’re open about needing a day off for your mental wellbeing, or whether you call it in as a sick or annual leave day, the occasional mental health day is important for us all.

“Work has become too strong a priority, and it’s taking a lot out of us,” Leckie says.

“Especially if you’re in a job that’s very demanding, you need to recognise that this needs to be balanced with refreshing and refuelling at home. You need to take the time to ensure you have time with loved ones, time to be active, to get some sleep, and look after your nutrition.”

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How do you make the most of a mental health day?

There’s no right or wrong way to spend a mental healthy day off work, but it’s worth thinking about the things you can do that will feed your soul. 

“The tendency is to stay in bed and have a Netflix marathon – and if that’s the thing you need in that moment, go for it,” says Leckie.

“But there are other things you need, too: sunshine, movement and social time – these things will maximise the benefits of your mental health day.”

“A day spent out in the sunshine, going for a long hike with friends, is going to do you an enormous amount of good both physically and psychologically.

“You’ll go back to work feeling better and performing better.”

If you need help, or this story has raised issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

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