Need a mental health day but worried about admitting it? You are not alone

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There are days when it’s hard to tackle work, even when you’re not physically ill. Should you take a day off for your mental health? If you do, should you be honest about it when you tell your manager?

If you work for an organization or on a team where you feel confident discussing mental health challenges, you’re in luck.

Despite all the advances in understanding and speaking about mental health, stigma and prejudice are still widespread enough that many of us are not willingly letting bosses and colleagues know when we are struggling.

Mental health challenges come in many forms. For some it will be a lifelong struggle. For many others the challenge will be times when they feel overwhelmed with stress and need a break.

Globally, the World Health Organization estimates that around 970 million people – about one in eight people suffer from a mental disorder at any one time, with anxiety-related disorders affecting around 380 million and depression around 360 million.

These numbers have increased by about 25% since 2019, an increase attributed to the social isolation, economic hardship, health problems and relationship strains associated with the pandemic.

But declining mental health is a long-term trend, and his likely work demands also played a role. Research identifies three major factors that contribute to mental illness in the workplace: imbalanced job design when people have high job demand but low job control, job uncertainty, and a lack of value and respect.

This explains at least in part why depression and anxiety appear to be more prevalent in wealthy industrialized nations. In the United States, for example, it is estimated that more than half of the population will experience a diagnosable mental disorder at some point in their lives.



Read more: Should You Tell Your Boss About Your Mental Illness? Here’s what to evaluate


Managerial attitudes change slowly

For the modern workplace, therefore, mental health is increasingly part of the landscape. But preconceptions and prejudices are difficult to displace. People with these challenges are still seen as weak, unstable, or lacking in competence.

These attitudes make it even harder for people with diagnosed mental disorders to find meaningful work and progress in their careers.

Business executives and managers, like the rest of the population, have limited knowledge of mental health issues or the ability to manage them in the workplace.

This blind spot is reflected in the management research literature. The best recent study on managerial understanding of mental health issues dates back to 2014. It found that only about one in ten HR professionals and managers felt very confident about supporting employees with mental health issues.

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Managerial understanding of mental health issues reflects broader attitudes, including biases.
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Even when managers understand that there are implicit biases against employees with mental health issues, they still may not know what to do about it.

So it’s no surprise that many employees remain reluctant to disclose their mental challenges to colleagues and managers, fearing a lack of understanding and potential negative consequences for their careers. But keeping it a secret and continuing to soldier can further deteriorate your mental health.

Frame the conversation

So what to do about it? Our research shows that leadership is key.

For all organizations, culture change can begin with leaders and managers speaking more openly about their mental health challenges. This allows others to follow suit.

Language choices are also important. The way we talk about mental health can change the way we think. Australia’s National Mental Health Commission, for example, refers to mental health challenges instead of mental illness. Such framing can help others view a mental health day as something anyone might need, not something for someone who is ill.



Read more: ‘It’s actually a human person, experiencing real emotions’: How podcasts can impact attitudes towards mental health


For larger organizations, an innovative idea is to have mental health advocacy employees with personal experience of serious mental health problems.

Energy Queensland, a government-owned utility with around 7,600 employees responsible for maintaining the state’s electricity distribution infrastructure, did so in 2017. Two of its employees, James Hill and Aaron McCann, now work as advocates for the full-time mental health experience. Hill had previously worked for the company as an electrician and McCann as a line worker. Both experienced deep depression and suicidal thoughts.

Our research, involving more than 300 psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health workers, suggests that lived experience advocates encourage more open organizational cultures, helping to break down the stigma that prevents others from admitting their challenges. of mental health.



Read more: Employers must prioritize employee mental health if they are to attract new talent


And a small number of organizations globally have introduced Health/Wellness Days an allotment of free days without a certificate, which can be used at any time, no questions asked.

As the challenge of squeezing greater productivity out of service sectors intensifies and competition for skills and talent intensifies, those workplaces that recognize and welcome the mental health stresses of modern life will be the ones with the competitive edge.

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