What is a Mental Health Day?

K. Testa

A mental health day typically refers to a personal day that someone takes off from his or her job, not because he or she is physically ill, but usually because he or she needs a day of mental relaxation. By not planning it into one’s schedule as formal vacation time, taking the day off is often a spontaneous decision. Someone might take a mental health day either in response to existing job stress, or to help prevent job burnout in the near future. Many people use the time to do nothing at all, or to engage in some enjoyable activities that they would not otherwise have time to do while working.

Frequent tension headaches may be an indicator that a mental health day is needed.
Frequent tension headaches may be an indicator that a mental health day is needed.

The term mental health day has been used somewhat jokingly, but people do tend to take it seriously. Many employers consider it a valid excuse for taking the day off, while employees at some other places have to feign physical illness or provide another reason for not coming to work. Some people use their allotted sick days while others use personal or vacation days, depending on their company’s policies.

A mental health day is meant for relaxation.
A mental health day is meant for relaxation.

Taking a mental health day can increase someone’s focus and productivity at work, which can eventually benefit the whole organization. It can contribute to the employees’ feelings of job satisfaction, helping them avoid resentment and other negative emotions associated with burnout. When studying factors that influence job effectiveness and overall satisfaction, psychologists and other experts on workplace issues often claim that mental and emotional well-being are just as important as physical health.

Many people spend mental health days relaxing rather than doing chores or running errands.
Many people spend mental health days relaxing rather than doing chores or running errands.

Some of the many potential signs that someone might need to take a mental health day can include insomnia and feelings of anxiety or depression. He or she might also notice an increase in physical ailments that are generally associated with stress, such as a tension headache or upset stomach. At work, an individual might feel angry or unhappy more than usual when dealing with coworkers or supervisors. The person usually decides at some point to take a short break from the situation, rather than keep working and risk further stress and aggravation.

Professionals who work in high-stress industries can benefit from taking mental health days.
Professionals who work in high-stress industries can benefit from taking mental health days.

During these breaks, some people relax and do nothing. Others pursue activities that they enjoy but otherwise would not have time for, such as reading, watching movies, and exercising. Those who recommend taking a mental health day often advise against trying to be too productive during one’s time off. In other words, the purpose of the day is relaxation and engaging in enjoyable activities, not catching up on chores or other obligations.

Constant anxiety and stress hinders the body's ability to combat fatigue and disease.
Constant anxiety and stress hinders the body's ability to combat fatigue and disease.

Some people also feel that children and college students need mental health days off from school. This argument is gaining ground as school pressures mount and many children are expected to behave and perform at the same level as adults. Many advocates hold the opinion that taking advantage of necessary rest time when young, can prevent overworked kids from turning into burned out working adults.

Some contend that children need mental health days off from school, to relax the mind.
Some contend that children need mental health days off from school, to relax the mind.
Watching TV is one activity someone might do while taking a mental health day.
Watching TV is one activity someone might do while taking a mental health day.
Catching up on reading is one activity people might enjoy during a mental health day.
Catching up on reading is one activity people might enjoy during a mental health day.
A mental health day can help with professional burnout.
A mental health day can help with professional burnout.
Spending time with friends might be part of a mental health day.
Spending time with friends might be part of a mental health day.
Spending the day at the beach is a popular way to spend a mental health day.
Spending the day at the beach is a popular way to spend a mental health day.
A mental health day may be spent laying in a pool.
A mental health day may be spent laying in a pool.

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Discussion Comments

Wisedly33

I have to take it as a scheduled vacation day, but fortunately, I can take a day on fairly short notice, since I don't do it often. It hasn't always been that way, but it is now and I am thankful.

A mental health day for me usually means sleeping in, not getting dressed until noon -- or after -- maybe doing a little shopping, but definitely getting absorbed in a good book and not talking on the phone, and not getting on the computer except to check email, maybe once. I just sort of drop out of life for the day.

I think it's good for people to be able to take a day just to relax, unwind and forget one's troubles. We all need to do that once in a while.

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