There comes a time when even the most resilient of us need to take a day (or more) off work. That cold that, despite your greatest efforts, has left you floored; or you’re debilitated with back pain or even an injury.
But what about a mental health day off? What if you have a low mood that just won’t go away, or you’ve been asking yourself ‘Am I depressed?’
Or, maybe, you’ve been experiencing anxiety attacks and are amongst the one-third of women to be professionally diagnosed with a mental health condition.
‘Mental health should be approached as just as important – and no more taboo – than physical health,’ says HR Director of Unum UK, Liz Walker. ‘An open culture can be a vital tool in getting the support you need and normalising the conversation.’ Short story, if you’re wondering ‘should I feel guilty for taking a mental health day,’ the answer is a firm ‘no.’
But, like when telling your partner about mental illness or discussing how to protect your mental health on social with your squad, there are techniques that can make the whole process easier.
HOW TO ASK YOUR BOSS FOR A MENTAL HEALTH DAY OFF
1. Overcome a fear of being judged
It’s a natural fear to have – after all, it’s only recently that the whole conversation around mental illness got started and, in some cases, it’s more developed than others. But, without getting the right support in the early days, you put yourself at risk of letting the problem escalate to an extent where you may not feel able to go into work at all.
“If you’re particularly worried about how you’ll be judged and are struggling, make use of the support your work offers,” says Walker.
Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) are often offered through the workplace with group risk products such as Income Protection. EAPs offer direct, confidential contact with experts who can support you with areas causing emotional distress, from family issues to work-related problems, addiction and mental illness, and can be very effective in improving mental health after contact.’
And it also pays to find out what your workplace offers before you need it. “Some employers may offer early intervention or preventative resources for employees to help them manage their mental wellbeing,” says Walker. |For instance, an employer who has access to Unum’s Mental Health Pathway can triage specialist support at the onset of issues arising.”
2. Plan your approach
Take time to prepare for any meeting where you intend to discuss your mental health. Think about how you might bring up the subject and what you would like to gain from the conversation.
“From a company perspective, it is more straightforward to provide support to those whose needs are clear,” says Walker. “And, through disclosure, employers can be better able to make adjustments and offer support.”
So where to start?
- Recognise how your mental health is impacting you professionally and personally. Have specific examples of things you find difficult at work and how this has impacted your performance or productivity.
- Take an outward-in perspective to identify and recognise triggers to mental ill-health.
- Explain what’s going on, how you’re feeling and what kind of support you need.
“Employers have a duty for reasonable care, and many workplaces offer a suite of resources that help manage mental illness,” says Walker. “For example, your line manager could make adjustments to certain tasks and environmental conditions, which may exacerbate or lessen the effect of your condition, or could offer flexible hours so you can schedule work at times when you feel most productive.”
3. Choose your setting
“This is something that will vary depending on your relationship with your line manager and how you feel comfortable talking to them,” says Walker. “But if possible, it’s nice having the chat in person – as opposed to sending an email or text.
This will allow you to actually discuss the problem, and get a dialogue going with feedback. A one-to-one meeting also gives you both the chance to gauge body language and other emotional cues that would otherwise go un-noted.’
4. Be open
As we’ve said, the more honest you are with your boss, the better equipped they’ll be to give you the support you need so always set out with the mindset that mental health is equally important as physical health – and just as likely to result in an absence.
Walker highlights how having an open dialogue with your manager can help make it easier to communicate the fluctuations of your mental health with them.
“Be clear about your needs so they know how to best support and accommodate you,” she says. “If you feel comfortable with your supervisor, frame the request for a mental health day in terms of what can be gained from a day or two off, such as increased concentration and productivity.”
5. It’s good to talk
Remember, once you voiced your feelings, keep your manager up to speed with any developments. “If you feel you lack support in your current role, requesting a work mentor or more regular catch-ups with your line manager might be what you need to feel more at ease and supported,’ says Walker. ‘Disclosing your condition to HR is also an option if you don’t feel comfortable opening up to your line manager.”
6. Consider your colleagues
Perhaps you have trusted colleagues at work who know how you’ve been feeling; maybe you’ve kept everything to yourself. Don’t overlook the fact, though, that there are likely to be questions about any absence.
“A brief and consistent narrative will help you,’ suggests Walker. “You might say something like, ‘I took time off for health [or personal] reasons, but things are fine now and I’m happy to be back to work.'”
7. Remember that sometimes, going into work can help
It may be the last place you want to be in the world but, according to research from Unum and the Mental Health Foundation, work can have a positive influence on mental illness recovery, well-being, self-esteem, social connectedness and identity – so don’t immediately blow it off.
“To make going in that bit easier, consider reaching out to a network of supportive colleagues and starting a mental health champions programme at your workplace,” recommends Walker. “This can be an excellent support system, as taking time out to chat to someone impartial can be a great remedy if you’re struggling emotionally, and there doesn’t have to be fuss, formality or even appointments.”
But what if you really don’t think you can face the office? How do you know whether you should go in or not?
“The most obvious sign that you need to take a day off for your mental health is when you feel like you can’t perform at work as well as you’re capable,” says Walker. “Remember, you’re not alone and early intervention is key – whether that’s through your workplace or GP.”
This article first appeared in Cosmopolitan UK.