Mental Health is a growing concern in the UK and around the world, 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health problem every year. Whilst more conversation is happening around mental health, and it is more commonly talked about in the workplace, the issue of taking a day off for mental health is still a massive taboo. But why? Many of us are more than happy to ring in sick when we’ve got a cold, or when we’re generally feeling unwell but wouldn’t even think to take a day off when we’re feeling stressed. According to the Office for National Statics, in 2017 UK workers took 131 million days off for sickness, yet only 7.6% of those absences were for stress, depression and anxiety and a staggering 0.4% for serious mental health problems. It’s time we break down the barriers around mental health in the workplace and start making our own health and wellbeing a priority.
Whether you are an employee, or an employer it’s important to understand exactly what a mental health day is. In short, it is a day that is taken off work in order to look after your mental/psychological health and wellbeing. These days can be geared around stress relief or reducing feelings of anxiety or depression, anything that makes you feel better within yourself.
There are a multitude of reasons that you might need to take a day off from work in order to look after your mental health. For example, we’ve all experienced stressful situations at work and when that stress builds up over time it can reach a point where you burn out, and become ill as a result of it. Taking a day out to focus on your mental health is all about pausing, and taking some time out for yourself to either relax or do what makes you feel happy. So just because you might stay in bed, or lay on the sofa all day when you’re off with the flu, doing that might not make you feel better when it comes to your mental wellbeing. Spend the day doing what makes you feel better, whether that’s taking a walk, having a bath, reading a book or something more mindful like meditation or journaling. It’s all about taking some time out for yourself to feel more at peace and collected.
A common misconception is that you need a formal diagnosis in order to take a day off for your mental health, however, this simply isn’t true. A person can still be struggling with issues such as stress, panic or anxiety as a result of environmental factors for example. A day away from work to spend on themselves can be exactly what an individual needs in order to feel more themselves, and work more productively upon returning to work.
According to the BBC “In the UK, there is no legal difference between taking a mental health sick day and a day off for a physical problem”. So whether you’re taking the day off due to your anxiety or for the flu, there should be no difference in the way that this is viewed by your employer. Over recent times, speaking about mental health in the workplace has become more common-place, meaning that compared to a few years ago taking a day out for mental health shouldn’t have the same stigma attached to it.
Something key in addressing mental health at work is making communication about mental health as easy and open as possible. As an employer, you are legally required to protect the health and safety of your employees and this requires looking after their mental health and making any adjustments where necessary. Spend the time to ask employees if they are okay, in both their work and home lives. Mental health not only has a negative impact on the individual, but also on how productivity and efficiently they work, and the effect that this can have on those around them.
You wouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed to say you were taking a day off for a physical illness, so you shouldn’t feel any different when it comes to a mental one. Organise a quick, private chat with your boss or line manager and explain how you’re feeling, and outline that you need some time off to focus on feeling better in yourself and at work. More often than not, a manager can relate to the way you’re feeling and potentially offer you some more advice.
Speaking out about your struggles can be daunting, but the more you do it and encourage others to do the same; the more we can decrease the stigma around mental health. If you would like some further help and guidance on mental health at work or would like to see how you can put steps in place to look after your employees’ health and wellbeing get in touch. Our team is more than happy to help and answer any questions that you might have.
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