Days Off for Mental Health

The last few years has seen a huge rise in recognition of the importance of mental health, which is a wonderful thing. The discussion that crops up in the news from time to time is on if we should we allow people to have mental health days off. If we are to care about mental health just as much as the physical, should we treat them the same way? Should we have mental health days off? My answer is: yes, and they are not anything that radically new. I speak here from my personal experience of school. 

There were some aspects of school I adored. I loved the structure, the learning, and being with my friends. I also hated the school bus, the nasty people that occasionally cropped up and the stress of managing different subjects. I never really got physically ill, or if I did it would be a cold I would deal with throughout the school day. I did not like to miss school, mainly because I could not stand having to catch up with all my lessons in the following days.

However, there were some nights where it would get to 10pm and I would realise I had stacks of homework to do due the next day. Sometimes it was my own fault for letting it back up, other times it was just having so much to do. I would be tearful and exhausted and generally just really stressed. It would be then my Mum would say “Maybe you should take a day off school tomorrow”.

These days off were not like a usual sick day. It would be a day I would sleep in a little bit rather than waking up at 6:30am to catch up school bus. When I did get up, rather than lie wrapped in a blanket in front of a Disney film, usually I would catch up with the homework which had overwhelmed me so much, but at a gentle pace in the comfort of my own home. The point of the day was not to be productive, but to get some rest and not feel overwhelmed. I just did work because it was something I enjoyed doing.

The first time I had a day like this, I did feel quite guilty for it. I was technically not ill, but it felt really necessary. That evening, I was pretty shamed by my friends on MSN for having this day off. We used to joke about each other “skiving” whenever we got ill because we missed everyone so much, but this banter did get to me a little bit. I did feel shame for it. I did not feel entitled to have a day off school just because I felt tired and stressed.

It was not like I was taking the piss. I could not just tell my Mum I felt stressed and instantly get a day off, there was a judgement call to be made. Some days I was just being a moody teenager, or maybe I was stressed but taking a day off would do more damage than good. 

Thing is, what I experienced was hardly a severe case of poor mental health. Even though I often felt quite stressed and overwhelmed, school was usually bearable, better yet, enjoyable. There would just be occasional periods where school was exhausting, and all it took was a day or two to get back on my feet and feel ready for the school day again.

We never called them "mental health days off" when they occurred. If anybody asked, we all just said I was ill. On reflection, both descriptions of my day off were acceptable. I was both ill, in that I was tired and under the weather, and they were, indeed, days off for the sake of my mental health. 

Days off to let your mind rest every once in a while are sometimes necessary, and we should not feel ashamed when we have them. I will always be grateful to my Mum for letting me rest, and for setting an example of how I should look after my mental health as an adult.