Go on, you deserve a mental health day

MELISSA SHEDDEN
Last updated 10:41 11/06/2013
sick day
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BECAUSE YOU'RE WORTH IT: Taking a mental health day can improve your productivity.

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We are all guilty of it. Even the die-hard workaholics. When work (and life's) stresses become overwhelming, we take a day off.

According to a ComPsych survey, 82 per cent of us have called in sick to work when we weren't really physically ill.

But it's not as simple as the time-honoured tradition of "chucking a sickie". That extra day you need away from work to recharge your mind is legitimate and it has a name, a "Mental Health Day".

Now medical experts say in order to remain productive and perform, workers should take one up to three times a year.

Psychologist Dr Vivenne Sullivan, from Melbourne-based Healthy Minds Allied Services, says mental wellness is often overlooked.

"Traditionally employers have focused on physical health. While this is a key obligation, under Worksafe it's also essential to consider psychological wellbeing. One in five Australians will experience mental health issues in their lifetime," Dr Sullivan says.

"A Mental Health Day is a fantastic initiative that works to reduce the stigma around mental health issues, increase community knowledge and promote mental wellbeing."

Refugee lawyer, Natalie Young, 29, from Paddington in Sydney's East, says even with flexible working conditions that accommodate study, sickness or compassionate reasons are written into contracts, sometimes you still need that last-minute day off.

"I pulled a sickie last week. I also study my Masters part-time and had an assignment due. With work, university and social commitments, the stress of keeping up with it all became too much.

"I called in sick to finish the essay, so it wasn't like I was slacking off. Though by the afternoon, I did treat myself to some 'me' time with a long run through Centennial Park. I work hard and long hours and am committed to my work, so while I did experience pangs of guilt, I felt I was entitled to it," says Young.

In the US, major corporations like Google and General Electric agree, encouraging staff to take "Mental Health Days", while the UK has a more relaxed approach, calling them "duvet (doona) days", those mornings when you just can't get out of bed for the commute.

Small business owner Luke Russell, who runs Altitude IT, with his wife Kellen, a Sydney-based IT firm with six employees and over 200 clients on the books, is making headway when it comes to mental health.

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Russell, 34, from Neutral Bay on Sydney's Lower North Shore says, "Whatever you want to call it, I don't see why taking the odd day off to recharge shouldn't be counted as sick leave. The repercussions of stress in the workplace are no different from a physical illness. An employee is going to be less productive and "infect" other staff if they are stressed and unhappy."

Russell admits this flexible approach might work for small operations, but may be difficult to monitor at larger corporations.

"We're a small company built on trust and reliance with our staff so it's easy to allow days off without worrying they are pulling our leg. If our employees need a day to chill, then they have one. I might even join them for a therapeutic beer," he says.

Psychologist Dr Vivienne Sullivan shares her tips on How to take a Mental Health Day.

1.  Learn to recognise when you need time out. Prevention is better than a cure. Unrelenting stress can lead to serious physical, psychological, social and employment (e.g., productivity, co-worker interaction) issues.

2. Remember work isn't all there is to life so when you take a day off, leave work at work.

3. Don't sleep all day (this will mess with your internal clock). Do something relaxing and enjoyable such as gentle exercise, read a book, see a funny movie or reconnect with a friend.

4. Please remember that if the issues persists see a psychologist or your GP.

- The Age

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