Let's Talk: Mental Health Days
I hope that someone out there, somewhere, reads this piece and realises - you’re allowed to take some time for yourself.
It’s been a while since I started getting to know you more intimately. You’re a beautiful city, your constant vitality runs through my veins, the sound of your traffic beats a tattoo on my heart, and I would never give you up for any other place in the world.
But sometimes, some days, you suffocate me. I don’t mean literally, although you do that too. (Climate change shout out, woo woo.) Some days, dealing with everything becomes too much to handle when I’m so deeply involved with you.
I think we need to talk about mental health days. No, this isn’t about October 10th. That’s World Mental Health Day. I’m talking about what Merriam-Webster defines as, “a day that an employee takes off from work in order to relieve stress or renew vitality”. The dictionary records its first use in 1971, but the idea still faces either serious opposition or confusion.
In my understanding, a mental health day doesn’t just apply to workplace situations or taking a day off from your job. A mental health day, the way it’s used now, is simply the time taken off from any overwhelming space, whether that space is a physical area or an emotional mind-space. Women’s Health Magazine defines it as “a day off solely dedicated to giving your psychological and emotional health some TLC, to break away from the draining stress of everyday life—stress which, over time, could lead to major health problems if not properly dealt with.”
Let's get real - we know mental health is simply not given the importance it should be. Mental health symptoms are often thought of as a weakness, and mental health disorders are still extremely stigmatised, particularly in work environments. In fact, in work environments, people are often derided for taking time off for their mental health. But that’s quite skewed, because according to Dr. Shannon Byrne, a clinical psychologist at Duke University Health System, “Taking a mental-health day can improve energy, motivation, mood, and one’s ability to manage stress, and time off might actually increase overall productivity rather than decrease it.”
Dilli, here’s the thing. There are days I feel disconnected, slowed down, simply under the weather; days I’m easily angered, days the slightest thing could set me off on a crying spree. There are days I’m extremely anxious and prone to panic attacks. Those are the days I know I need to shed some of the weight I carry on my shoulders.
I am fortunate enough that my workplace has demonstrated a wonderful understanding of the need for mental health support. But there are millions of employees around the world who need to just give themselves a break.
Students in Oregon have successfully lobbied for a law that will now grant them the option to take a mental health day off from school.
I cannot understate how important that is - high school is a highly stressful experience overall, and in recent years, things have only been getting harder. Suicide rates amongst school children have been rising, and kids, woke as they are now, are directly affected by a number of things that could trigger depression and anxiety. In the Indian context, in particular, we see students under an immense load of stress. It’s exhausting for anyone, and we need to be able to equip our children with measures to effectively deal with mental health issues.
So, my dearest Dilli, I write to you hoping for a tide of change. I hope that soon, we will see a warmer environment (no, stop that, I don’t mean it literally) in workplaces that will foster a more balanced system of productivity. I hope that someday, we will realise that we don’t have to be a part of this rat race, that we don’t need to be browbeating our employees into attendance.
I hope that soon, mental health days will be a more widely accepted thing, without the stigma, the snickers, and the stares, and I fervently hope that mental health awareness continues to spread.
I hope that your masses of employees who are quietly suffering have some respite, and I hope that someone out there, somewhere, reads this piece and realises - you’re allowed to take some time for yourself.
You’re allowed, you must - so please do.