How To Ask Your Work For a Mental Health Day Without Being Fired (Hopefully)
For many employers, calling in sick to take a mental health day conjures images of skipping work to snort avocado toast and get a round of Kybella. While partaking in this kind of Instagrammable wellness is 1000% my brand and a totally valid form self-care, many of us require mental health days for those showerless, stay-in-bed marathons complete with cashmere-coated teeth, and a floor full of Ding Dong wrappers. Sadly, work culture isn’t yet at a place where we can write honest cover letters to our prospective employers (“Skills include: bipolar management! Holding back tears! Showering with Wet Wipes!”) proclaiming our disorders. That said, we can forget fearlessly asking for the accommodations we might need to better manage our moods at work. Until we get to that distant utopia, we need to figure out how to ask for time off to tend to our mental wellness without the risk of job loss or judgment. I went straight to the source and asked business managers, career coaches, HR professionals (and more!) what to do. See what they had to say below.
"So it's going to depend on your boss and your relationship with them. If you know that your boss is understanding and you have an open relationship with him or her it could potentially really serve you to be honest. Your honesty could potentially open the door for a further conversation if your work environment or workload is contributing to your anxiety or overwhelm. However, if you don't have an open relationship with your boss, you know that he or she won't be understanding, or simply don't want to talk about something that can be very personal -- then you may want to take a different approach. I would just keep things simple and say that "I'm taking a day off for personal reasons." It's honest and doesn't necessarily open the way for further questions, and most bosses will consider that a sufficient reason/explanation. Alternatively, you could just treat it as any other sick day. Your mental health is as important as your physical health, and a request doesn't require a lot of detail or personal information. In many cases simply saying that you're not well and need a day off to recover is sufficient." -Crystal, Career Coach
"As a leader, it is imperative to create an open environment and share your struggles so that your employees feel empowered to do so. There have been several times where I've had to cancel meetings or have voiced that I needed space because I was experiencing heightened anxiety. I find that the more open I am, the more comfortable my team becomes with expressing their needs. With mental health, there isn't much you can say. It's not like the flu or strep throat. Symptoms are sometimes unexplainable. For that reason, all my girls need to say is 'Hey, I'm struggling with my "XYZ"' or 'Larz, I need to sit this meeting out, I need time for myself.'" -Larissa, Founder & Creative Director, Half The Story
"Over the years I've learned to identify what I want and what I don't want. What's truly important to me and what is not. When I interview for a new job, I'm honest with what I want. I want and need a work-life balance. I currently am in both the service industry and the retail industry, so I'm already working nights weekends and holidays. I tell my future potential employers that having a work-life balance is super important to me. I give them the shifts I am willing to work, and what I know I don't want to work so I can maintain a healthy life outside of work. What I need to be a happy, productive employee/human. I think this sets up a healthy expectation. When I get asked to work outside of this, I don't feel bad saying no, and I don't feel bad calling out when I need a personal day. There's nothing worse than feeling bad and dealing with anxiety in general and then feeling bad on top of that. No is a complete sentence. I'm not a manager anymore but I know it's always gonna suck when someone calls off but at the end of the day, everything is going to be okay. Whether they believe me or not, that's on them, and it doesn't change the fact that I can't work today." -Kyndra, Former Manager, American Apparel
“We’re all human beings, and we all have this crazy roller coaster called life that we have to deal with on a daily. As long as you're honest, it’s completely fine! Depression is something serious, and I think if you don’t feel your best you won’t be able to perform at your best. The employee has to feel 110% fine in order for them to do an outstanding performance. And it all starts with taking care of yourself first!” -Marilyn, Former Training Manager
"As a momma of triplets + 1, who works side-by-side daily with my husband at [our] shops, I get the need for zen moments. When a staff member needs a mental health day, absolutely take the day to yourself! Life can be exhausting. Shit can go down and rock your world upside down without warning. Whatever the reason, I find it hard to judge anyone who is dealing with their shit and simply needs a day off. We all have those days. Do you. Recharge. Just don’t take it for granted. If it affects work frequently and you seem to need a mental health day on the daily/weekly, I may lose my shit." -Maggie, Chief Officer, Grethen House
"From an employer's perspective, asking in advance is always helpful. It's great to have some advance notice -- a few days or more -- so that you can plan ahead and make sure that the rest of the team is ready for your day off. However, if you live with a mental illness, it can be impossible to 'plan ahead' for a bad day. In those cases, the best way to ask is... honestly! You're not required to provide your employer with your health information, but explaining that a day off is crucial for your job performance and well-being might be a good way to approach it." -Michael, Human Resources, The Mighty
“I asked my boss for a mental health day once when my dog passed away, and I felt a fear and uneasiness like never before. I broke out in a cold sweat and felt scared and short of breath. It was not just sadness. This was four years ago, and he told me, ‘that’s life, you’re sad and you gotta just deal with it.” He told me to get a doctors note if I was really sick, and reminded me of how busy we were. My doctor took me off work for a week. [My boss] let me take time off only with a doctor visit and a note." - Zildheam, Former Loan Underwriter
“[My boss] was really apprehensive at first. It took some explaining, and I was nervous to have to break it down. But once I did, he understood. Overall I've had positive experiences asking. Since I had the time off, I knew it would be fine if I took a day, but I was asking for it for the following day which is a no-no. But I just sent him an email asking for it, stating it was for my mental health, and that I was burnt out. He asked for more details, and I just told him I had been working a ton, and my brain needed a break. I think when he asked for clarification it was more out of concern looking back on it. I remember when I wanted to ask I thought about doing it in person but I was anxious about that." -Rebecca, Marketing Coordinator
“I usually just say that I can’t come in today, or I say what the actual problem is. [For example], ‘I can’t come in today because my anxiety is at an all-time high.' Unfortunately, I usually lie when its depression. I feel like people understand high anxiety sometimes, but If I'm just like, "'Oh I'm too low energy to get out of bed’ they’re going to be like, ‘What?’” -Cassandra, Tarot Reader
"The best way to go about asking your boss for a mental health day off is to be up front and honest. Don't lie and blame it on a physical illness, because you won't get the time off you need, because you'll be worrying about being caught out or feeling guilty for not telling the truth. Sit your boss down and explain what's going on, how it affects you and why it's important that you take some time for yourself to recuperate. Honesty is key, even though it may seem daunting and you'll worry about the answer. However, most good employers will appreciate your honesty and will hopefully have some form of understanding of mental illness - I mean, with 1 in 4 people suffering, it's likely they have someone close to them going through something themselves. You'll be surprised how understanding employer's can be. Be honest and just ask them outright - and most importantly, don't worry about doing so, because the more you worry, the more stress will be put on your body and your brain, which is something you really don't need if you're struggling." -Hattie, Lifestyle Reporter, Metro UK
There you have it, habibis! Some disclaimer-y things to remember: not every suggestion above may work for you and your employer. The twisted truth is, you probably have a better chance getting the day off to take your puppy to therapy than you do calling in sick to tend to your own mood disorder. If you choose to be upfront about your need for a mental health day or be transparent about your mental illness at work, you may risk job termination (despite this being illegal) and/or various consequences. Please do not attempt to share information about your mental illness at work if you feel that your job security and/or personal safety may be in jeopardy. The above suggestions are simply personal opinions of those quoted and cannot guarantee a positive outcome if used. In addition to promoting honesty in the workplace in the name of ending the stigma, I wanted to be realistic. I made sure to include options for those who can’t be open about their mental illness at work, which you can read in the blurbs from Cassandra and Michael.
If you have a great way to ask for a mental health day, leave your story or suggestion in the comments!