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Mental Health at Work

Are Mental Health days sick days?

When faced with a mental health challenge, it can be hard enough to get out of bed some days, without having to worry about delivering a full day’s work, so what are your options for taking some time to look after your mental well-being; are Mental Health days sick days?

Are Mental Health days sick days?

Everyone has good and bad days, but when you are facing anxiety, depression, or one of a whole raft of mental health challenges it can be difficult to concentrate at work or to carry out the social functions of working in an office with a whole host of other people.

Approximately 141 million UK working days are lost each year due to sickness or injury which works out to around 4.4 days per worker, based on data from 2018 by the ONS.

Mental Health is listed as the fourth largest grouping of the reasons for workplace absence.

Somedays all you want to do is to pull the duvet back over your head and doze – especially if you’ve been awake all night, which is a common symptom of a mental health problem.

So what are your options when it comes to taking to work about your mental health? Can you legitimately take some leave days to protect your mental well-being?

If you were feeling physically sick would you take some time off? Probably. You wouldn’t want to spread an illness around the office and infect everyone else if you happened to be contagious. Mental health doesn’t work like that, it’s not contagious outside of mass hysteria (psychogenic and sociogenic illness).

What about if you had a broken arm or leg? That kind of physical comparison can be useful when looking at mental health care as it centres around a crisis point (the injury) that takes time to heal (the recovery) and may need some adjustments to your life going forwards both in terms of protecting against repeated injury (avoiding trigger events) and also in building up to feeling strong again (the rehabilitation and building resilience).

Are Mental Health days sick days?

The short answer is to check with your company policy on sickness and absence. Most workplaces will allow for you to self-certify for a set number of days absence due to sickness or ill-health.

Speak to your line manager and explain to them that you are feeling unwell and need to take sick leave. You do not have to go into deep personal detail but it is likely that you will need to explain the reason for the leave and that this will be recorded in your human resources record. This recording of sick leave is normal for companies who wish to monitor sickness levels over a longer time period.

If needed, you can speak to your GP and ask them to record your mental health feelings in your health record and to provide you with a ‘fit note’ for work.

It’s equally important for you to identify what you think may have triggered the problem and what steps you think you could take to help you recover and build resilience to avoid it returning. It’s a good idea to speak to someone else at this point for support. You can find our list of mental health helplines here.

Think about how you are going to spend your sick day to help you in your recovery. You may know best what will help you bounce back or you may know that there isn’t any quick fix for how you feel and you need support to build a longer-term plan for coping with the mental health issue.

Reach out for support and then think about the methods that have worked for you previously; would detaching from social media help you for the day, or going for a walk to indulge in some forest bathing or nature therapy. Are your feelings related to general anxiety around a current situation? (See also our article on protecting your mental health during lockdown).

Returning to work

If you have been absent for more than a few days then when you return to work you will most likely be asked for a return to work interview – this should not be as scary as it sounds and is simply for the employer to check that you are well enough to return and to find out if there are any steps they can take to help you return to work and to prevent the problem from returning again in future.

If handled correctly then your employer should be supportive of you and your mental health as it’s in their interest to have a happy and healthy workforce. Some managers don’t know how to handle mental health conversations and may find the process tough. We will be adding resources to the mental health lab around mental health in the workplace and how employers can have mental health conversations with their staff.