Days to recharge?
February 4, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

"Mental Health" days? Is this a proper use of sick days?

Three out of four of my call ins since I started this job eight months ago have been personal "mental health" days, as I call them. Days where I am stressed and need alone time. I spend the day in bed, sleeping, relaxing and recharging.

Is this abuse of sick days? My doctor knows I have anxiety and is treating me with an antidepressant and Xanax (taken as needed). I don't want to abuse my sick days, but some days I just can't get out of bed. It's infrequent (to me, anyway, some coworkers call in more, some less, some not at all). I only ask because I'm going through a REALLY stressful time right now since the beginning of the year and I've called in twice already for these days. I talked to my doctor a couple weeks ago and she says I'll get through it (it's related to external things going on in life). I know my work uses something like the Bradford Factor and I don't want to get HR involved for my call outs.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
They are yours to use as you damn well please.
posted by phrontist at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2011 [24 favorites]

3 days in 8 months where you just need a break seems completely and totally valid to me.
posted by brainmouse at 9:17 AM on February 4, 2011

I have used sick days in this way before and I think it is appropriate. I think the purpose of sick days is twofold: to allow employees to recuperate and to prevent other employees from getting sick. Even though no one is going to "catch" your anxiety, I find that I contribute more to work and my co-workers when I'm operating at my best. Sometimes that means taking a break when I need one.
posted by Colonel_Chappy at 9:19 AM on February 4, 2011

I think it's a totally valid use. Mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical illness, and it's better for everyone if you don't attempt to do your job, risking performance issues, while "under the weather." Also, plenty of people use their sick days to straight up play hooky, so don't feel bad for missing work for a legitimate reason when you are staying within your allotted days.
posted by elpea at 9:21 AM on February 4, 2011

I don't think it's a big deal. If HR raises an eyebrow, you could tell them you have a chronic condition that flares up sometimes and leave it at that. If you're consistently taking only Mondays and Fridays off, it may be more of an issue.
posted by backseatpilot at 9:23 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Totally acceptable. Unless you are a doctor or a hostage negotiator or something, it's safe to assume that 75% of your coworker's "sick days" are actually due to other factors... sick kids, "mental health" days, court appearances, hangovers, taco-eating contests, etc.

Every coworker with whom I've ever been close enough to discuss this topic has admitted as much. On the other hand, it's not something MOST coworkers 'fess up about, for obvious reasons.
posted by julthumbscrew at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2011

We no longer have sick days, they now call them "personal choice" days.
posted by TheBones at 9:25 AM on February 4, 2011

I am a lawyer, and do some HR stuff for my company. Our sick leave policy allows for use of sick time for personal illness, illness of a child or dependent, or medical appointments. We provide vacation time and floating holidays for employees to "use as [they] damn well please." You should read your company's policy, as it might well address this issue directly.

Personally, I understand that a "mental health day" can go a long way to make an employee more productive and healthy. And given the fact that your anxiety is being treated medically, I think you have a good basis to believe that a fair use of sick time is treatment of your issue.

If our HR department asked me about an employee who was using sick time for "mental health days," I would probably offer the advice that (1) it is a technically questionable use of sick time, but (2) if an employee is not abusing it, it is not worth making an issue of it.
posted by AgentRocket at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2011 [8 favorites]

You're sick. Sick of the grind. Take a day, stay in bed, eat crappy food, and nap. And then tomorrow, get up, go to work, and be awesome.
posted by deezil at 9:34 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yup, I'd say this are a fine way to use sick days. I also agree with dflemingecon that if you see a steady increase, that it might be a red flag.

Fwiw, my approach to mental health days is that I try to take them at times when I'm not leaving any of my colleagues in a real lurch. It makes me feel better about taking that time for myself, but beyond that, I heartily endorse using sick days this way!
posted by Richat at 9:35 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yes. I do it a couple of times a year. Take them on Wednesdays. No one cuts work on Wednesdays (dead middle of the week), so if you're out people will think you were legitimately sick.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:40 AM on February 4, 2011

For whatever reason, perhaps I am bionic or in perfect symbiosis with the world around me or something, I rarely get actually sick. Thus, I take a "sick day" a couple times a year and use it to sleep and marathon DVDs. These days are enormously restorative. You will pry them from my stiff dead claws at your own peril.

Unless the undoubtedly perfectly nice folks in your HR department start askin', which they shouldn't given that you're taking sick days every once in a while and staying within your allotment, your beeswax on this subject belongs to you and you alone. Keep taking good care of yourself. That's what the days are there for.
posted by superfluousm at 9:48 AM on February 4, 2011

Sick days at my old company were called "choice days" too - no big deal if you weren't actually physically sick. You're fine.
posted by Ostara at 9:52 AM on February 4, 2011

It's a valid use, yes. I'm firmly in that chorus.

Certainly don't overuse them, and don't take the occasional need for a mental-health as being valid day to mean that you shouldn't also work on addressing the context that's causing the need for them if the need starts happening more frequently, or the existing frequency is too high ('too high' here meaning mostly 'starting to cause difficulties at work' which will of course only feed into the need for them), etc. The other aspect of potential trouble is simply that you do want to have a reserve in case you get physically ill, too.
posted by Drastic at 9:52 AM on February 4, 2011

Other places have changed the name of sick days to PTO - paid time off. I've used sick days as mental health days before and haven't really thought twice about it. Brains get sick just as bodies get sick and we can all use a day to recuperate.

I prefer my recuperation to take place while riding singletrack on my mountain bike or taking my kids to the beach. The effect on my attitude and person is remarkable and I strongly believe that I'm more effective in my job after these recharger days.

Don't feel guilty about them at all, that diminishes their positive effect!
posted by fenriq at 9:55 AM on February 4, 2011

I would question the assumption that anxiety or even just feeling bad isn't contagious. If you've ever had someone snap at you for no discernible reason, you might concede that it is contagious and could even affect performance and everybody's work environment.
posted by amtho at 9:55 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I worked in mental health it was almost an encouraged thing. If you had a particularly challenging couple of weeks, with clients screaming at you, and the supervisor got the sense that you weren't working at your typical level, he or she might tell you to take the next day off as a mental health/sick day.
posted by bizzyb at 10:18 AM on February 4, 2011

I have called my boss and told him as much when I need a stress day, around here didn't raise an eyebrow, but I work for a small company so may not apply to mega-super corp
posted by kanemano at 10:19 AM on February 4, 2011

Fuck yeah, it's valid.

If you broke or sprained your ankle, you'd consider that a valid medical problem, right? It's something that prevents you from living your daily life. It stops you from moving as quickly as you're used to; it may prevent you from driving. This doesn't just affect you, either; it may require you to ask help of those close to you (if you need rides, etc.) or complete strangers (if, say, you need to take a seat on the subway or could use a hand opening a door).

Breaking or spraining your brain shouldn't be any different: whether it's due to a diagnosed disorder or a temporary condition, it impacts the way you think and act. And it impacts the way you feel, too; if you're slogging around, not getting sleep and slumping in your chair, your back hurts and you can't thing straight to be productive. It keeps going in a vicious cycle until you do something to stop it. It affects the people around you and prevents them from going about their days in the same way, too, either because you relate to them poorly or because you're unable to do the things they expect of you.

I took a mental health afternoon last week. I was stressed already before we got rear-ended on the way in to work. I couldn't get a damn thing done. Everybody was already on edge for various reasons, and we were on the verge of smacking each other, let alone not moving forward.

The next day, Friday, I came in and completed more than double my usual two-week output, well before my usual completion time of OH GOD MONDAY AFTERNOON.

Mental health days are not only proper but necessary.
posted by Madamina at 10:20 AM on February 4, 2011

Is this abuse of sick days? My doctor knows I have anxiety and is treating me with an antidepressant and Xanax (taken as needed).

So, you are literally being treated for a sickness. You have nothing to worry about. From one anxious person to another, please relax. :)

(but even if you don't have a 'scrip, you're allowed to use sick days as you please)
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:36 AM on February 4, 2011

Mental health is as critical as physical health. The 2 are related. If you are experiencing symptoms that need health-care-provider recommended treatment, and need to miss work, then you use sick days.

My personal advice is that spending the day getting some exercise and getting outdoors would improve your mental health more than a day in bed, but it would still be away from work. It sounds like you're taking care of yourself; keep it up.
posted by theora55 at 10:57 AM on February 4, 2011

I agree that they're a totally valid use of your sick days, but I want to point out that MeFites seem to be almost universally agreed that mental health is as important as physical health. The rest of your workplace ( I have certainly worked in places where saying you took a mental health day would get you an eye-roll) may not be quite as understanding, so you might just want to say "I was sick".
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:09 AM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Terrible migraine" works because you can go right back to work the next day looking just as chipper as ever, and not be thought contagious.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:19 AM on February 4, 2011

Not only do I think it is a completely valid use, I would not work somewhere that did not agree. I literally call-in and say I am taking a mental health day.
posted by hworth at 11:39 AM on February 4, 2011

No matter why I am missing work (physical illness or otherwise), my email to my boss simply says "I am staying home because I don't feel well." It's the truth, after all.
posted by cabingirl at 11:50 AM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Chatfilter, except for this: You should read your company's policy, as it might well address this issue directly.

I have been in situations where my "mental health days" were boss-approved but not company-approved. Puts you both in a slightly hinky situation.

It's probably worth noting that there are companies that require a written doctor's excuse. In fact, my local clinic has its own policy that they only give out doctor's excuses when someone is actually seen by a doctor, indicating that there is a great demand for written excuses.
posted by dhartung at 12:44 PM on February 4, 2011

I agree that everyone needs to take time off for "sleeping, relaxing and recharging," and that is what vacation and personal days are for. Obviously this is a problem if your workplace does not allow you to take those days off at short notice, and nearly every response here has provided justification for taking sick days when you're not physically ill, but to my knowledge, most company's HR policies are not in line with this.
posted by Polychrome at 12:46 PM on February 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Obviously this is a problem if your workplace does not allow you to take those days off at short notice, and nearly every response here has provided justification for taking sick days when you're not physically ill, but to my knowledge, most company's HR policies are not in line with this.

Then those policies need to change.
posted by phrontist at 1:21 PM on February 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd be pretty annoyed if one of my colleagues phoned in sick when they really meant that they wanted to watch DVDs or hang out and have fun. But then, we have flexitime and loads of vacation days so it's a bit much to take more days off if you're not sick.

But, don't feel bad about taking mental health days. People are right that mental health is as important as physical health. Be aware of both the policies and culture of your work place when declaring them - where I've worked, it's at best questionable under the policy and completely against office culture. I would claim a migraine or similar if necessary.
posted by plonkee at 2:04 PM on February 4, 2011

My gut response is, if you're feeling crappy and go to work that way and it brings everybody else down, then technically, you have "infected" your coworkers with something just as "contagious" as a fever... namely, a "don't talk to me, fuck my job and fuck my life" attitude, which DOES affect productivity.

Stress is catching. Relieve yours at home and that IS, as far as I'm concerned, the best use of a sick day possible. Anxiety and depression are often chronic conditions, like asthma. Unless you frequently run out of sick days and are taking unpaid days off, it shouldn't be a problem.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 3:00 PM on February 4, 2011

Absent something specifically saying that's not okay, yes, I think it's totally fine. I consider that to be just as valid a use of sick time as a cold or doctor's appointment.

Are you required to explain why you're taking a sick day? If you only have to say "I'm taking a sick day," then (1) it doesn't seem like the employer would care, and (2) the employer has no way to know, anyhow.

Your anxiety and medical mental health stuff only strengthens this argument.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:11 PM on February 4, 2011

I encourage my staff to take doona days, and lead by example. Stay home and sleep. See a movie in an empty cinema. Go to the zoo. Keep your kids home from school for the day and make a blanket fort.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 6:59 PM on February 4, 2011

There is no need to tell them why you are taking a sick day. And HIPAA requires that they don't ask.
posted by gjc at 9:18 PM on February 4, 2011

Vacation time is something that you are expected (or even obligated) to take, and is paid out when you leave your job. Sick time is not. Companies that dislike this distinction (for any of a number of reasons) are the ones which institute generic paid-time-off policies and avoid all the gray area about what's sick and what's vacation.

Personally, I think that three mental health days in eight months is kinda pushing it already. (I am presuming that you work a 40 hour week.) You're not leaving much leeway for good-faith-seeming sick leave if you are physically ill.

But I think your company culture is a much more important consideration even that the HR agreement (which is obligated to toe a harder line to mandate a certain baseline standard of professionalism.)

At my former job, vacation/holiday was skimpy. Meanwhile, our sick days rolled over from year to year, so most people who were generally reliable employees had oodles of sick time. While the party line was strict, unofficially it was fine to call in sick time for doctor's appointments or mental health. Of course, if you ran afoul of politics, you were technically breaking rules and screwed.

At my new job, sick days are for illness. That's it. But the vacation and holiday policies are generous, and supervisors are permitted latitude for allowing someone officially work from home or flexible hours. A mental health day would be in bad faith here.

More concerning, though, is that while three days in eight months is not egregious, what you're really talking about is twice in one month already, and it doesn't sound like you're expecting the external stress to let up. Before you paint yourself into a corner, maybe you could consider seeking a second opinion about managing your anxiety.
posted by desuetude at 10:06 PM on February 4, 2011

We have people at my job who take 'mental health days'. That means that whenever we have a big deadline or a critical project, they mysteriously 'fall ill', leaving the rest of us in the lurch. It means that there are people I work with whom I wouldn't believe were actually sick if they came in with a cast on their leg and a big blood-covered bandage on their head.

But I know people at work, who don't make a practice of falling 'sick' when there is a critical deadline approaching, also call in sick when really they aren't sick. Oddly enough, it doesn't bother me at all when those people send me a text to say they're not coming in that day. I have done it myself.

So what I'm saying here is that you need to make sure you're not making a pattern that is going to piss everyone else at your work off and which may be actionable by your bosses, and you need not to tell people you work with what you're doing. Don't do the 'sound sick' thing when you call in, either. Just say you can't come in. It's your time, and as long as you're not deliberately screwing other people over, it is no one's business how you use it.
posted by winna at 11:54 PM on February 4, 2011

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