Mental Health Days Is Real Sick DaysDave Smith
One of my worst depressive episodes occurred in 2016. I was going through a lot of personal stress. I had just left a 14 year relationship. I was thinking about how to survive financially and I realized that I would probably have to leave behind my beloved city of San Francisco. I was in ruin, sad and scared. And that was before the depression really settled.
I found myself struggling to get out of bed. I couldn’t find the energy to walk down the hall to receive the mail. I was eating old cans of beans to avoid going to the supermarket. I felt that my body weighed ten tons and my brain was full of glue: any thought or sensation that got out of it was a sticky and unmanageable disaster.
But I sure wasn’t going to lose my job. Although I had many days of illness not used as part of my benefits package, it never occurred to me to stay at home. The days of illness were not due to brain problems. That would be weak. Right? Sick days were at least for the flu.
Looking back, staying home should have been an obvious decision. But at that moment I was afraid: would I have to say why I was sick or in what way? Would I have to defend myself? I just did not know. So I tried to keep working as if nothing was wrong, until suddenly I could not: on a Tuesday afternoon, I left the office crying after watching for hours a lot of work that I could not begin to handle. It was scary and embarrassing. I took four days of illness in a row, out of necessity, as I left the darkest part of the well.
Let’s clarify something: clinical depression and other mental illnesses are diseases. They are not lazy, they are an excuse or they do not try. They come with symptoms that make work and other parts of daily life very difficult and sometimes impossible. When it is severe, those symptoms require sick days. This is true when you have a diagnosed condition, but also when you experience the debilitating symptoms of situational depression that can occur with a loss or other life problem.
Mental illness days are not “personal care” in the sense of enjoying a luxurious and relaxing spa day. As with the days of physical illness, they are tools to provide the necessary care, rest and recovery when the illness makes it impossible to be productive. Like the days of physical illness, they help us to accelerate faster than if we had tried to pass.
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It can be difficult to take a sick day, whatever the reason: there is a lot of pressure in our culture to be “on” all the time. Here are some things to think about to help you know what to say and how to say it:
Know the rules and policies of your company. If you have a few days of illness or need help understanding the protocol, you can talk to Human Resources. If it is between ~ 30% of workers in the US. Who do not have paid sick leave, this equation is even more complicated (and frustrating!). You may be eligible for the benefits of the Family Medical License Act (FMLA) or the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), so it is worth investigating a bit.
Remember that sometimes the culture of the company and the team is not just about official rules. Some managers may dissuade you from taking sick days, even though they are allowed and paid. This is unfortunate and a really bad strategy to keep good employees, but it happens. Pay attention to negative comments about other people who take sick days, or small hints about sick days as a weakness. Try to be prepared. If you are concerned that your manager thinks you are abusing sick days policy, it may be time to have an additional discussion with HR.
Remember that your work and your company’s work will not fall apart if you have time to rest. In fact, working when you are sick, fatigued and with a fogged brain can lead to mistakes that are more harmful and harder to recover than being out for a while.
Know how your boss wants me to tell them. Some prefer an email without details, others prefer a phone call. You do not have to describe your symptoms in advance, or even say if your illness is physical or mental. While your boss has legal permission to ask, many do not. A simple “I’m too sick to come today” should be the trick.
Understand your manager’s feelings about casual work at home. Sometimes you feel well enough to do some work, but too depressed to be human. If things face to face are out of reach but you think you can work in isolation, this could be a good tool.
Especially if you know you have a condition that can justify a day of mental illness, do everything possible to be as prepared as possible to help your team cover it while you are away.
Topics: Bipolar Disorder, General Mental Health, Depression, Anxiety and Panic Disorders