This editorial originally appeared in the March 17 issue of The Index as part of the Head to Head column, featuring two columnists’ opposing views. To read Corbin Kottman’s piece about how mental health days cause stress, be sure to pick up a copy of the paper on newsstands now.
In the story of our lives, we are the gallant heroes who desperately fight to better the world and our position in it. However, every story has a villain. The treacherous face of stress and its evil henchman depression are the very real obstacles that stand ready to beat us down at every turn. These forces can ravage our emotional well-being in the same way a virus mercilessly ravages the human body. For this reason, mental health days are more than just important — they are necessary.
Now, a lot of people don’t believe in mental health days. They think as long as a person has the ability to show up to work, they should, because that is what they’re paid to do. The thought process behind this argument often views such days purely as an excuse, which suggests most people don’t understand the true concept of a mental health day. If a person does decide to take a day off just to get out of work or simply because they don’t feel like going anywhere, then that person should not be taking a mental health day.
A good reason for taking a mental health day — one of the only reasons — is when an individual no longer has the ability to work efficiently and produce high quality results. This happens after working too much for an extended period of time or during a time of emotional crisis, such as the death of a beloved pet. These circumstances create stress that affects mental health and often results in depression, low morale and low self-esteem, which negatively affects work and productivity. Our work similarly is affected when we are physically sick, which is why we take sick days. For the sake of our overall well-being, we need to take mental health days as well.
The need for a mental health day is very similar to the feeling of writer’s block. When the words won’t come to you, and you can’t think of anything to write, sometimes the best option is to walk away. When you come back, you are much more refreshed, and the words flow much easier. The same is true of a mental health day — stress and other tense emotions build up, and sometimes it takes a day off to get those productive juices flowing again. In fact, forcing your way through the problem when it’s not working can end up causing more stress and set you back even further.
That being said, there are also a slew of reasons not to take a mental health day. For some, taking a day off work actually creates stress and anxiety rather than reducing it. If this is the case, then a mental health day is not going to help. It can, however, be planned out multiple weeks in advance to prepare this type of person and finally give them the breathing time they need.
A lot of people also have the urge to take a mental health day when deadlines start to pile up. They become so overwhelmed with work and the motivation to do any of it just vanishes. If you have a legitimate deadline to meet, make sure you meet that deadline, or try getting an extension before you impulsively take the day off. Choosing not to do important work arguably can cause more long-term harm to your mental health than one recovery day might help.
The key to all of this is the ability to let the mind rest and recuperate. Being completely healthy includes mental and emotional health, not just physical health. One of the current problems surrounding mental health days is the stigma against them. It’s harder to determine when someone is emotionally unwell than when they are physically unwell, so people assume it would be too easy for someone to exploit the ability to take a mental health day when they don’t need to. But people already exploit taking sick days, so there really isn’t a difference. Allowing people to take mental health days increases their productivity because they tackle projects with a clear and rested mind, and it increases morale, which leads to a better work environment. Mental health days, when used correctly, only have the ability to help, which is why we need to have a more accepting attitude toward them.
People are not robots. We need days to rest if necessary. Not even machines can function at top capacity forever, so why should people be expected to?
Mental health days are important, and they are necessary for high-quality performance and emotional well-being.
Holly Fisher is a senior English and linguistics major from Elizabethtown, Ky.