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Mental Health VS the Workplace: Why We Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Taking Mental Health Days

The stigmatisation of mental health days in the workplace is real – and they can have very real consequences on someone’s life. If you need to take time off to feel better, do it, argues writer Emma Coll.

Ding, Ding, Ding!

Recently, a friend messaged me saying that she wanted to call in sick from work due to feeling really down and depressed. Only she decided against it because she felt that it wasn’t an adequate enough reason to take a day off work. She felt that she’d have to make up another excuse, which she didn’t want to do. In turn, my friend ended up feeling worse for it – so she called in the next day. Yet she ended up feeling worse still. Why? Because anxiety x feelings of guilt for phoning in sick x pressure from work for doing such a thing = a perpetual cycle of anxiousness.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the biggest problem faced by the campaign to raise awareness for mental health disorders is that these are invisible disorders. Someone calls in sick with a broken leg? Everyone understands. ‘Oh my goodness, how did you do that?! No problem! GWS!’

But if someone calls in sick with anxiety, depression or anything else related to mental health? You’re treated with suspicion straight off the bat. ‘Errrr, ok? Can’t you just come in and do X, Y, Z instead?’ No, dude, that’s not how it works.

Viewed differently across the board, mental health isn’t as black and white as some people may think. As someone who is well aware of the impact mental health issues can have on a person, both mentally and physically, it’s not a difficult task for me to understand that sometimes, a little time off could make a world of difference for someone’s morale. However, this begs the question:  How do you call someone out for playing on it and/or lying about it?

Well… you don’t.

It seems to be a common misconception that if someone calls in sick with mental health issues and is seen out walking the dog, getting a cup of coffee or is active on social media – they must be lying. ‘Oh, well I saw so-and-so out walking their dog last night and they looked fine soooo…’ is an actual thing I heard someone protest about someone taking time off – because everyone who deals with mental health issues must be subjected to their bed the entire time they’re off work, right? Wrong. You know those moments you just wish there was a ‘mute’ button on actual people? That was one of those times. I mostly chalk this down to lack of education regarding mental health. Forcing yourself to go to work and taking some well-needed stress-free fresh air and leisure time are completely different things.

Yeah, well, there have been days where I feel depressed and I still come to work’ or ‘Oh, I think I’ll call in sick the next time I feel a bit down, then’ are more examples of comments that completely miss the point. For starters, you cannot possibly measure up someone else’s mental wellbeing with your own, nor can you compare the two. Everyone is different and experiences things in different ways and to different extremes. Secondly, mind ya damn business.

Just because someone handles their mental health differently to how you’d expect, that’s by no means an indication that they’re lying. If, as an employer, you suspect people are taking advantage of their time off, I’m sure there are ways to tread carefully and certain procedures to carry out to ensure that you’re not carelessly pointing fingers. Honestly, it’s already hard enough struggling with mental health issues without having to feel guilty about it. If, as a co-worker, you suspect somebody is ‘lying’ or ‘taking advantage’… again, mind ya damn business.

The stigmatisation of mental health days in the workplace is real – and they can have very real consequences on someone’s life. If you need to take time off to feel better, do it. Don’t feel guilty about it and do seek extra help if you need it. All employers are required by law to be there for you and it’s their duty to lend guidance and/or refer help. However, there are other professionals you can talk to if you feel you’re being mistreated or dealt an unfair hand in the workplace. Taking a day off to mentally recuperate is no different than resting up a twisted ankle. Feel better soon!

Images VIA Instagram @kathrinhonestaa | @anxietysupport

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