5 Benefits of Taking Mental Health Days Off | updoc

March 16, 2022

Dr Karina Palad, MD
Reviewed by Dr. Christopher Sim
Written by updoc's Editorial Team
5 Benefits of Taking Mental Health Days Off | updoc

You could have probably guessed it, but mental health issues have grown dramatically over the past few years. The main reasons?

  1. COVID
  2. Economic & financial concerns
  3. Society being generally a bit of a shit show lately

In response, companies, both small and large, have started introducing mental health days. These days there is recognition that health goes beyond just physical health and physical illness.

Just how bad has mental health gotten in Australia?

Well, you’d be hard-pressed not to be feeling the brunt of things, but some of these recent statistics explain just how bad mental health has gotten in Australia:

  1. Almost 21 million MBS-subsidised mental health-related services were processed in an 18-month period across 2020 and 2021
  2. Close to half of these MBS mental health services were delivered by telehealth — leading to close to 1 billion dollars (<insert Dr. Evil>) in benefits paid out for telehealth alone
  3. Calls to Lifeline were up by over 33% in the 4 weeks to 19 September 2021 against a year earlier
  4. Calls to Beyond Blue were up almost 21% in the 4 weeks to 19 September 2021 against a year earlier

Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Problems

Recognising signs and symptoms of mental health problems is crucial for early intervention and seeking appropriate support. Common symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns may include persistent feelings of worry, sadness, or hopelessness, changes in appetite or sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, withdrawal from social activities, and decreased energy levels. 

It is important to distinguish between a temporary feeling of stress or anxiety and a more persistent mental health problem. If symptoms persist and significantly impact daily functioning, it may be indicative of a mental health issue requiring attention.

Understanding the legal provisions outlined in the Fair Work Act is essential for employees' well-being. The act provides important entitlements, such as sick leave and personal leave, that protect employees' rights to prioritise their mental health. By utilising these provisions, full-time employees can take necessary sick days or personal leave to address their mental well-being without compromising their health and safety. 

Employers should promote a supportive work environment that values mental well-being and recognises the importance of taking time off for self-care and mental health. Prioritising mental well-being contributes to a healthier and more productive workforce overall.

5 things taking a mental health day off help with

Although there are a range of benefits, we’ve researched the top 5 that will hopefully work together, and all be realised on any days you take off for your brain to fix itself right up (even if only in the short term).

#1 — You could get better sleep

Alright, we’re a little biased, but sleep is great. There are a number of studies linking improved mental health to better sleep and better sleep to improved mental health — a positive cycle. On the flip side, with bad mental health, especially linked to job stress, comes bad sleep — and with bad sleep comes even worse mental health outcomes, such as depression or anxiety.

In other words, taking a mental health day or two off can seriously help improve sleep and in turn, improve mental health outcomes.

#2 — You could have improved job and life satisfaction

A study by the American Psychological Association found that taking a day off and properly disengaging from work — not ruminating about everything you have to get done, not taking calls or checking emails — will significantly improve overall life well-being.

And here’s the really interesting part — another study found that higher job satisfaction leads to better mental health outcomes, indicating a positive cycle. But without that first step of taking a mental health day off, the positive cycle can’t even begin at all.

#3 — You could have a reduced risk of chronic health conditions

In Australia alone, the cost of managing chronic health conditions is around $38 billion dollars per year. Shocking, we know.

To add to this, those living with mental health concerns are significantly more likely to suffer from chronic health conditions as a result. Another vicious cycle is that in the same way that mental health contributes to chronic physical issues, chronic physical issues then lead to poorer mental health outcomes.

By taking time off to check in on your own mental health and fix yourself up from time to time, you will be doing your part to reduce your own risk of chronic physical health issues — and you get paid for it if it’s paid sick leave.

#4 — You could quite literally live longer

Your chance of dying from a stroke and heart disease due to overworking has increased by over 29 percent since the year 2000 — meaning your general likelihood of living longer will increase if you take a day off. Especially if you take that day off to relax, and recalibrate. Maybe chuck on Netflix. The good stuff.

#5 — Your productivity could improve

Research from around the world shows that poorer mental health leads to poorer productivity — meaning that if you’re able to take a day off to just chuck your cucumber face mask on or whatever your mighty equivalent is (maybe give your Mum a call and drink at least 8 glasses of water), you’re probably going to smash out work the next little while as a result. And you’ll feel better and less stressed.

Can you take a day off work for mental health?

Although there’s some greyness to it that we’ll discuss below, in short, your employer can’t discriminate against you due to any mental health issues you might be experiencing. In other words, they can try, but you’re best off referring them to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), or they might end up in trouble themselves in these scenarios.

According to the Australian Fair Work Ombudsman, you (the employee) can use any paid personal leave you’re entitled to if you can’t work because of any “injury or personal illness”. This can also include stress, but stress leave is not its own category.

How to ask for a mental health day off work?

Telling your employer and asking for a mental health day can have you feeling stressed or feeling overwhelmed, but it doesn’t have to be. 

The best bet for any employee is to just be as transparent as you can be with the mental health day off — luckily, mental health and mental illness stigma is decreasing significantly, and these conversations are getting a lot easier. 

The process can vary significantly between workplaces, from a simple text, a talk with your boss, or a medical certificate. It’s important to check your workplace’s leave entitlement policies, as this can vary between casual, part-time, and full-time employees. When asking, make a simple and straightforward request, and remember you can share what you’re comfortable with.

For employers, the best bet is to allow employees mental health days off to avoid any backlash, both at an employee and Fair Work level.

As always, your situation is your own - so if you get in a sticky situation, make sure to seek out your own independent advice.

Is it okay to take mental health days?

Absolutely! If you need a mental health sick day, you shouldn't hesitate. It’s in your and your employer’s best interest and it is likely to benefit everybody in the long run.

Is anxiety a reason to miss work?

Yes, anxiety is a valid reason to miss work. Anxiety is Australia’s most common mental health condition, affecting 3 million Australians. If anxiety is significantly interfering with your ability to perform tasks or affecting your health and safety, it is important to communicate with your employer and consider taking time to prioritise your mental health.

Is it okay to take a week off for mental health?

In some cases, a week off for your mental well-being may be necessary. However, this should be discussed with a healthcare practitioner, and your workplace may require you to follow certain policies outlined. Open communication with your employer can help facilitate understanding and support.

If you need to speak with a Partner Practitioner who, if suitable, can provide an online medical certificate, it’s a simple process through updoc:

📱 Head here

📝 Fill in a short form — it asks for key details about your issue

👨⚕️ Consult with your own Partner Doctor — they’ll take the medical information you provide and assess your needs within 24-48 hours

📥 If they find it to be suitable, your Partner Doctor will issue you a medical certificate to your inbox — you’ll receive an SMS and an e-mail with your medical certificate ready to download

It’s important to note that the independent Partner Doctor will read your health notes and make an informed decision on whether to provide you with a medical certificate or not. The Practitioner does not work for us, and we’ve created updoc to facilitate a convenient, ongoing connection with them.