How to ask for a mental health day

In this blog post, associate professor madelyn geldenhuys shares some tips on how to take a mental health day off work.

We live in a chaotic and stressful world that can often feel overwhelming when things build up. While you wouldn’t hesitate to ask for a sick day if you had the flu, asking for a ‘mental health’ or ‘wellbeing’ day can come with certain hesitation. Here are some practical tips for requesting and receiving that much needed day off.

1. Use the right words

The aim is to open a dialogue about mental health in the workplace, balanced with what you feel comfortable saying and how supported you feel. If you feel supported, it will be easier for you to disclose any potential concerns. You don’t have to over explain your reason; start briefly and build from there. For example: “I need a day to refresh”.

2. Be prepared

Determine how you are feeling. This will help you plan your responses. Think about what information you want to share with your manager and prepare for the conversation based on this. Say, for example: “I feel tired and need time off to reflect or prioritise my work and life roles.”

3. Consider causes

Identify words and phrases your company uses when speaking about mental health and mimic those, if possible. Consider what has caused you to become stressed and work out ways to manage that.

4. Choose your time

Consider your contractual obligations regarding how far in advance you should request a mental health day. On average, between two to seven days is adequate. The key thing to consider is how your work will be impacted. Give your manager a plan of action around your tasks and how it will be completed or managed in your absence.

5. Make the most of your time off

A mental health day is an early step towards prevention of serious mental health problems. Use your day off work to rest and take stock with what led to your current mental health state. Relax, eat well, do activities you enjoy, but also spend time reflecting on your emotions and consider solutions or ongoing self-care practices to help you cope in the future.

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