“I think the safe advice is not to be upfront,” said Andrew Kuller, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Not everybody values mental health, he added, and “unless you’re close with your supervisor, it is a risk.”
But say you work at the type of organization where you can tell the truth without fear of being punished. In that case, you are still under no obligation to reveal why you want to take a sick day. However, if you want to share (or are interested in reducing some of the stigma around mental health) you might approach your manager and say, “I think I would really benefit from taking a day just to recharge a little bit,” Dr. Grant said. “I would like to come back to work with all of my energy.”
When employees are mentally and physically exhausted, it affects the quality of their work, their productivity and the people around them, Dr. Grant added.
“I think it’s easier to have a conversation about burnout than it is about feeling sad or depressed or anxious, so I would probably play it safe there, and highlight why this is good for the organization, not just good for you,” he said.
If you’re feeling up to it, you can also try to assemble a coalition of people within your department who are concerned about mental health fatigue, said Dr. Grant, whose latest book, “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” challenges readers to shift long-held thought patterns. As a group, you can discuss concerns like missed deadlines or errors that might be compounded by burnout, then bring these issues to your manager, who may be motivated to find a solution. That way, you can try to change the system for everyone, including yourself.
What do you do during a ‘sad day’?
In deciding how to use a mental health day, it helps to think about what brought you to this point in the first place. Do your personal relationships need attention? Are you exhausted from your workload and desperate to disconnect from everything? Did you have a particularly stressful week and want to spend some time decompressing? Maybe it’s a combination of several things.
Thinking it through ahead of time will help you use your day in the most helpful way possible. While one person might benefit from a massage or a day of pampering, another person might want to paint or garden. Others will find the most value in reconnecting with friends or family members.