Taking A Mental Health Day / Combating Guilt

One of the challenges of dealing with a mental illness is the need for time to recuperate. Maybe your depression is mounted so deep, you can barely claw through your day, or perhaps your mind is so strained from anxiety, you feel like you’re at the end of your rope. You’re tempted to call out from work or school and take a mental health day.

And that’s when the guilt and questions step in. As someone who has dealt with both depression and anxiety, mental health days are nothing new. But that doesn’t make them easy to take. Questions pop into your head like:

“Am I just finding an excuse to take the day off?”

“Do I really need to call out? I don’t have a fever or any physical barrier that would keep me from going.”

“What will my managers, peers, and schedulers think of me if I keep calling out? Will they think I’m abusing the system?”

And then you have to deal with things you hear from other coworkers or family members. Things like:

“When I was your age, I never called out.”

“I don’t understand why today’s generation is always slacking off and calling out of shifts—didn’t they get jobs because they wanted to work?”

The guilt is really tough, especially when you can’t point at anything concrete like a fever or broken leg or even a runny nose or cough to “justify” it to those around you (or even to yourself).

So let me tell you this: Taking a mental health day is not bad. In fact, it can be the best thing you do for yourself and for your team.

As a friend once told me, the best way to decide what you need to do is to ask yourself: “Would I feel better if I went in to work, or would I feel better if I called out?” Answering that question can be tough, but ultimately if you feel calling out will allow you to wallow in anxiety or depression, it may not be wise. Maybe being around others and accomplishing tasks will improve your mood and self-confidence. On the other hand, if you fear you’ll have a mental breakdown or feel shitty if you keep pushing yourself past your limit, stop. For goodness’ sake, stop. Rest.

Our culture doesn’t yet fully understand mental health, and American culture doesn’t even yet understand the need to take vacation days. Let me repeat: In America, there is guilt even around taking a vacation day. So of course there will be guilt when you call out sick for a mental health day! Our culture doesn’t know how to rest and revive and doesn’t understand the importance of more than just physical health. We also need mental, emotional, and spiritual (not to be confused with religious, although the two can be synonymous) health.

If you do need to make the call to take a mental health day and are feeling guilty, try calling up another friend who understands who you are and what you are going through. I’ve done this multiple times, and because they knew me, they were able to reassure me to do whatever it was I needed for myself.

And the times I did listen to the guilt and forced myself in for my shift? I regretted it. I knew I wasn’t being true to myself or making my health a priority.

I understand those around me may judge me if I call out—they may misunderstand and jump to conclusions. Normally, however, those who also endure mental health issues do understand and will support my decision, just as they will yours. Remember, when people jump to a conclusion, it is often because they do not know what is going on in your life and can only speak for how they would handle a situation.

If you do need to call out, know you are taking the time to care for and honor yourself on a very deep level. While not everyone may understand, I’m sure most people who care about you as a human being would rather have you call out a little more and have you experience less panic attacks, depression, stress, and numbness. They would rather have you strong and healthy, so you can best support your team and focus on your work. Besides, not attending to mental, emotional, or spiritual needs can bleed into and manifest as physical illness. Calling out for a day is better than letting everything build up and put you out for a week.

Ultimately, do what you need to care for yourself, and those who love you will thank you. Most of all, you will thank yourself.

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