The first time I heard a co-worker use the term mental health day was back in the mid-1990s, when I was teaching at an elementary school in Toronto.

The Grade 1 teacher used the term loosely, with air quotes.

While she may have simply wanted to escape her rug rats for a day, she may have really needed to take care of her mental state.

It’s never questioned when we take time off to rest for physical ailments—a flu or a cold, or when we’re struck with a migraine. Why wouldn’t we do the same for our mental health? Check that. Why wouldn’t employers encourage us to do the same for our mental health?

We’re all getting busier; smartphones have made our work lives run 24/7. We’re overworked and stressed out. In fact, in 2014, the American Psychological Association and the American Institute of Stress identified job pressure as the top cause of stress. And that could mean co-worker tension, difficult bosses and work overload.



Surveyed Canadians age 15 and older indicated most days were “quite a bit” or “extremely” stressful

Source: 2013 report from Statistics Canada

“Traditionally, we’ve been allowed to take a day off for [illness], we’ve been allowed to take a day off for vacation,” says Dr. Jacqueline Brunshaw, a psychologist with Cleveland Clinic Canada. “To date, there’s no real permission to take [a day] off for however one would describe mental health,” she says, adding that could mean being tired (due to overtime or staff shortages) or simply needing to get away from an irritating situation.

While we may not have direct permission, everyone takes mental health days. When I need one (typically two to three a year), I call in to say I’m not feeling well. But I don’t actually come out and say, “I’m not feeling mentally up to snuff.” I have to lie. I have no choice, because employers and society, in general, aren’t understanding.

Employees hesitate to tell their bosses, “I’m feeling burned out,” for example, says Brunshaw. “[Mental health] is just not given the same weight [as being physically ill]. It’s like complaining or like you can’t measure up. If someone is in line for promotion, is that [attendance report] going to sit in his or her HR file?”

There’s guilt, too, says Brunshaw. “As they struggle with [taking a fake sick day], they get more anxious and more depressed and more stressed. It’s working against each one of us.”


OCT. 10 is Mental Health Day

Brunshaw recommends re-examining the whole structure of employee sick days, suggesting employers cease differentiating between sick days and mental health days and simply call them wellness or health days. Something neutral and generic.

That makes perfect sense to me. No more lying.

As Brunshaw says to her patients, “We can’t cut health off at the head.”

I agree. Headless employees aren’t productive.

Brooke Smith is managing editor of Benefits Canada.

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Copyright © 2019 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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cliff calverley:

To Brooke — Some things in life are hard to take and we all need a ” day off” to get back on track — unfortunately; you only see that the ” employer” has to be aware of it ( and of course; has to pay for it ). Sorry, I don’t buy into the ” poor me ” crap. You ( ” you” being a generic term ) start down that road and pretty soon, you’re stressed out ALL the time. So you can sit at home ( recuperating from the stress ), maybe start the day off by sleeping in till noon, and play video games the rest of the day, go to a movie at 9:00 PM because you’re now bored with the day; come home at midnight. —- — then you come in the next morning, you can’t even think straight, the world is terrible, ” It’s not MY fault I have a hangover, — I need ANOTHER day off” ——. I get RID of people like that. — I have people that work for me — some of them for over 20 years, most of them 10 years or more. — Guess why == It’s because I get rid of the deadwood so that we ALL share the load, we ALL benefit, and we are ALL happy to have a secure job without having to drag ” poor Harold ” along — ( and do his work for him ).. — How’s that for a novel concept?? —-What would you think if your babysitter just locked your kids in the house and took the day off??? — You probably don’t even realize it; but THAT’S what you are advocating.

Thursday, October 22 at 11:48 am | Reply

Alyssa Hodder:

I like the idea; the challenge lies in managing it. You would still want to be able to identify patterns – for example, an employee who takes a mental health day once a month and always on a Friday may be treating it like vacation time instead of how it was intended. On the other hand, an employee who takes a lot of mental health days may actually be dealing with a more serious issue, such as depression.

Thursday, October 22 at 12:27 pm | Reply

Terry Hanna:

Mental health days…… have to be kidding! What are
holidays for?? If your job stress is that bad then your in the
wrong line of work.

Friday, October 23 at 10:20 am | Reply

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