Mental Health Days – Rarely Taken, Desperately Needed

It’s an interesting concept that a day off can be taken without guilt for a headache, but if you’re having a full-blown panic attack or episode of depression you feel you still have to go to work. So how do you know if you need to take mental health days and what should you do with them?


We’ve all been there, woken up with a pounding head, sore throat and a nose thinking it’s about to take on a marathon. We pick up the phone, make our apologies for calling in sick and roll over to get some well-needed rest. Now imagine you wake up but this time your heart is pounding, chest is tight and your thoughts are racing. What do you do? That’s right, go to work.




It’s an interesting concept that a day off can be taken without guilt for a headache, but if you’re having a full-blown panic attack or an episode of depression you feel you still have to go to work. So how do you know if you need to take a ‘mental health day’ and what should you do with it?

Every single one of us has mental health. You reading this now, me writing the article our mental health is as present as our physical. For a long time, there has been a misconception that you need to encounter mental illness before you have mental health. Despite some startling facts like 1 in 4 people will experience mental health issues of some type (that’s a quarter of everyone you know). That suicide is the leading cause of death in men under 55 years old and stress is predicted to become the next health epidemic of the 21st Century.


But…I’m not mentally ill

You don’t need a diagnosed condition to take a mental health day. Just like physical health, our well-being generally fluctuates along a spectrum depending on many factors. For our minds, these factors can range from outside stressors (work or family demands, money worries), our capacity to deal with those stressors, our diet and nutrition to how well we’re sleeping at night. All these things (and some) contribute to how we’re feeling mentally and how we can cope with the different demands that are on us. Taking a mental health day ultimately is giving yourself time to recharge and take some steps towards somewhere in that spectrum where you’re better placed to manage and ultimately to do your job. It doesn’t mean you have to go and seek professional support, however, if you’re concerned that you might need more than just a day to reset or you’re finding yourself needing frequent mental health days it would be a good idea to have a chat with your GP or mental health professional.

It can be daunting approaching your boss to ask for a mental health day, although more companies are starting to encourage the use of them and see the benefit of supporting employee wellbeing, the truth is the majority of businesses do not view mental health as a valid reason to take time off without a formal diagnosis. Ultimately you know your boss and the working culture better than we do if management is approachable and understanding then speak to them about needing a day or a few to focus on your wellbeing. However, if you know supporting mental health isn’t high on the company agenda, then use a sick day. Unless you’re planning on taking a few weeks off, in the UK you can self certify for up to 7days without a doctor’s note.


So when do I take one?

There is no checklist of things you have to feel before taking a day off to focus on your mental health, however, if you’re frequently feeling one, some, or all of the following then it could be a good idea to take one.


  • Feeling overwhelmed

It’s natural to have waves of feeling overwhelmed when we see the deadline or we take a peek at the ever-growing to-do list stuck to the fridge. This tips into being unhealthy when the feeling comes and goes frequently, you feel it constantly or feel overwhelmed at things that you would normally be able to manage, this could be an indicator of anxiety.


  • Feeling drained

You can feel drained both physically and emotionally. If you’re waking up feeling like you never went to sleep in the first place and having to force yourself to get up and start the day. Or you might feel overly fragile, on the brink of being upset for no reason or feel empty of emotion and motivation to engage with people. This can be a good sign that your mental health might need a little TLC.


  • Flare-up of existing mental health conditions

If you have existing mental health conditions it’s really important to pay attention and respond to the signs your mind and body might be telling you when things are getting on top of you. Our minds are great at letting us know when we need to take some time out, we just need to get better at listening.


And what do I actually do?

First thing first, do not under any circumstances feel guilty for taking a mental health day.

You don’t need to spend the whole day meditating or trying to get to the roots of why you’re not feeling 100%, the most important thing is to listen to what your body is telling you. If you feel physically drained and emotionally overwhelmed because you’ve been up most nights unable to sleep with racing thoughts, the likely thing you’ll want to do is sleep and that’s fine. The point of a mental health day is to help you recharge, reset, and take some steps to improve your wellbeing.

It can be helpful to spend some time either thinking about or writing down what might be causing you to feel off-kilter. With the current state of the world, many people’s general anxiety level seems to be working higher than usual so it’s understandable that situations that are usually manageable now seem exacerbated. For tips on how to know if you’re catastrophizing and how to accept our strange new world head over to our blog from Mental Health Awareness Week.

There are no right or wrong ways to spend a mental health day but here are some tips that could help you to recharge:  


  • Switch off. In all senses of the phrase. Turn off your phone or delete social media apps for a while. You’ll be surprised how just taking a complete break can help to reduce that anxiety tightness.


        • Get out in nature. It’s proven that being in a natural environment or even just looking at one helps to release natural endorphins that boost your mood. Some gentle exercise will also help to reduce tension and improve mood


          • Have an honest conversation with yourself. If taking a mental health day is the result of not addressing something going on in your life, like being unhappy at work or in a relationship. Now could be the time to find the time to accept that something is not right, you might not be able to fix it but just recognising it can go far in releasing some of that built up mental tension.

            Next time you wake with that sensation that your well-being might need some attention, don’t ignore it. Remember that your mental health is as important to look after as your physical health.

            Need to brush up on your mental health knowledge?


            This CPD Accredited Mental Health Awareness eLearning course aims to build an understanding of mental health. Candidates will gain an understanding of how to recognise the symptoms of mental disorders and how to understand that people experiencing possible mental disorders require appropriate services.

            This post was last modified on 17 May 2021


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