Friday, July 21, 2017

Why a mental health day is so important...

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash
A few weeks ago a 26 year old web developer’s twitter post about taking sick time for mental health reasons went viral. Her message to her boss was:
"I'm taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I'll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%,"
The company CEO, Ben Congleton, read her note, he sent the following a supportive reply back.
"Hey Madalyn, I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can't believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,"
As a therapist, I see a huge significance in that response. The stigma around mental health and behavioral health continues to be a barrier toward effective treatment and proper self-care. Taking the viewpoint that mental health and physical health are equally important can go a long way to more effective prevention and increasing health and well-being.
When we are sick we stay home from work for three main reasons:
1.    Working while sick with a cold, cough, fever, stomach virus or any other medical condition can exacerbate symptoms and ultimately make us sicker. For those of us who go to our jobs despite feeling sick because we don’t want to get behind in our work, we can wind up getting even sicker and missing more days than if we just rested when our symptoms started.
2.    Productivity goes down when we are feeling sick. Being tired, in pain or suffering through illness can interfere with our ability to do our job effectively. It’s tougher to concentrate, more difficult communicating and slows down our productivity.
3.    We can get other people sick. Coming into the office or workplace while sneezing, coughing or with other contagious symptoms can affect those around us. Whether it’s our coworkers or clients, it creates a larger problem for the office.
Let’s look at the same three reasons and apply them to taking a mental health day and as you can see, they still apply:
1.    Coming to work and ignoring warning signs of stress, depression or anxiety can increase symptoms. Knowing yourself and how to reduce emotional reactivity and/or unhealthy responses to stress by taking appropriate breaks can go a long way to maintaining healthy mental and emotional wellness.
2.    Productivity is also negatively affected. When we are overly stressed out, depressed, or anxious it can be very challenging to stay on task, stay focused or communicate effectively with others.
3.    You may think that getting other people sick in traditional terms may not apply, but that's not exactly true. We as human beings are affected by the mood, attitude and emotions of those around us. Going to work when feeling depressed, negative, or with poor emotional regulation absolutely affects the mood and productivity of those around us. Have you ever found yourself feeling down after spending time or working with someone who was in a bad place emotionally? What about smiling when you see someone smiling? New research in the area of “mirror neurons” is starting to explain why we sometimes experience emotions as contagious. Here’s a great video with more details:   
Taking care of our physical health has now become mainstream and part of our daily routine. We all know how healthy foods, exercise, drinking more water, using sunscreen, getting sleep (whether we do them or not) can positively affect our physical health. These things also have an impact on our mental and emotional health as well as other practices that are slowly getting attention. Having a healthier work/life balance, increasing time with loved ones, as well as practices such as mindful meditation, are all becoming more important as we better understand a more integrative and holistic approach to health and wellness. 
That being said, taking a sick day for emotional or mental health reasons is as important as taking one for physical illness.  
It is all part of a effective self-care for better health and wellness.  Thank you to Madalyn and her boss Ben for getting the conversation going!