How to Ask for a Mental Health Day, According to Experts

You deserve a break.

Let’s be honest: It can be nerve-racking to ask for a mental health day off from work. While you know your own limitations and are aware of when you need to log off, it can still be scary to address your needs to a superior who may not completely understand the story of what’s going on with your mental health.

The truth is, that shouldn’t stop you from taking a mental health day.

While your co-workers might not fully understand why you need to take time off from work, licensed mental health counselor Diane Brennan says it’s important to take a mental health day when you know you need it. “There are times when we all need to step away from our work because we are feeling high levels of stress, anxious, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived, confused, and low motivation. When we step away from our work, it provides an opportunity to regain our footing, center ourselves and recharge our energy,” Brennan tells HelloGiggles.

But even though most of us are aware that it’s important to take a mental health day, some of us are afraid to put in the request because, unfortunately, there’s still a stigma around mental health in the U.S. “[This stigma] connotes weakness to say you need a mental break whereas if you get physically sick, that is a legitimate request,” says career coach and human-behavior expert, Beverly Flaxington. “Also, an employee [may not want] their boss or superiors to be worried and watching them for a ‘breakdown.’ [Addressing one’s mental health] could potentially shine an unwanted light on the employee’s activities.”

Even if this might occur, it’s important to put our health first. But how exactly can we begin to discuss the topic of our mental health with our employer? We connected with Flaxington and Brennan to help guide us on how we can ask for a mental health day, so we can simply take a few days off to recoup.

Here’s how to mental health day:

1. First thing first, recognize when you’re feeling stressed. 

Taking note of your emotions when you’re feeling stressed will allow you to fully understand what your body is trying to tell you. When you check in with yourself first and inquire about your mental health, you’ll have a bigger grasp of your state of mind, which you can articulate to your superior when you decide to bring it up.

“I would recommend first checking in with yourself to identify the feeling and how it’s currently impacting you mentally,” says Brennan. “Then ask yourself, Would taking time away from my work help to improve my mental wellbeing and help to increase my productivity? If the answer is yes, then think about how you would approach the time off. Would a day off be helpful? Would two? What would you do during that time away to help improve your mental state? The goal of taking a mental health day should be to engage in activities that would support improving your mental state.”

2. Be transparent about your request for time off work.

“Many companies have personal time off (PTO) and those policies are meant to provide employees with a pool of days to use. Many times, as an employee, we feel as though we need to provide a thorough explanation for our absence [when this isn’t the case],” says Brennan. At the end of the day, it’s important for you to be honest about your mental health with your superior. While you don’t have to go into the nitty-gritty of what you’re personally going through, you can address your concerns while simultaneously asking for paid time off.

Instead, Brennan recommends, when asking for a mental health day, to say, “I am requesting a day off to improve my wellbeing and reduce my stress level” to open the lines of communication. “You can then engage in a dialogue with your boss about the source of your stress in the workplace and ask for their help in improving stress to increase productivity,” she adds.

3. Address what you’ve been working on and the challenges you’ve been dealing with.

In addition to discussing your mental health (if you choose to do so!), this is also a great time to bring up the workplace stress you’ve been managing. “It’s important to recap some of what has gone on that has led to the need for an emotional break from work—perhaps remind your boss of what you have been working on, the difficulties you have encountered and the fact that you have pushed through and managed to do what’s needed,” says Flaxington. “Remind them you enjoy your work (assuming you do!) and you just want a chance to refresh and recharge and then jump back into what’s needed.”

4. If your boss declines the request, ask for feedback.

While this situation will most likely not happen since a lot of workplaces are becoming more understanding about the importance of mental health, a few superiors might not be able to accept the request for whatever reason. If this situation does arise, Flaxington says it might be a good idea to inquire about the decision. “I would be inclined to ask my boss why and ask for feedback on what ideas they have in place of the emotional break I’ve requested. It’s helpful to learn about what your boss perceives and thinks— this is useful information [you can use in the future],” says Flaxington.

But remember you, as an employee, have the right to use your PTO, sick paid days, or FMLA to take a break. “Assuming your workplace has ‘regular’ sick time leave when you need to take a break, then you can always fall back on calling in sick,” adds Flaxington.

5. Remember: There is no wrong time to take care of your mental health.

“If we view a mental health day as [an] important time to care of yourself, then there is no wrong time [to take a mental health day off.] We need to normalize the need for ‘mental health days’ and allow them [to] have equal importance with days where we are not feeling well physically,” says Brennan.

To put it plainly, our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Period. While some workplaces might recognize physical health over mental health, you shouldn’t feel pressured to push through when you don’t have to. It’s part of your company’s job to make you feel safe and seen as an employee, and the best way to do that is for them to recognize the importance of mental health. “Workplaces can help by making it part of their time off policy, specifically stating that personal time off can be used when you are not feeling well, both physically and mentally,” says Brennan. “Companies can also support mental health days by reducing any cultural blocks that might prevent someone from feeling comfortable to ask for a mental health day.”

Remember: Your mental health comes first. Listen to what your body is trying to tell you and gather all the information you may need to prep your time off. At the end of the day, your boss and co-workers want what’s best for you, so don’t deny yourself recovery time when they want you to heal just as much as you do.

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