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Young woman meditating on bed
Young woman meditating on bed

The importance of mental health days

Virtual care · Nov 3, 2022

We often talk about the importance of holistic wellbeing, a concept that recognizes the interconnectedness of physical and mental health, and considers how factors known as social determinants of health — including what we eat, our financial status, and the environments we occupy — affect our bodies and minds. But it can still be hard to take time off from work over mental health concerns.

A study found that even though mental health conditions are acknowledged within the medical system and have defined diagnostic criteria and treatment options, just like other ailments, there is still a social stigma that makes employees hesitate to reveal them.1 Many surveyed are concerned that their colleagues "would think they were worthless, or had serious character flaws.” Canada's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recognizes “that mental health is not taken as seriously, and treated as urgently, as physical health" and considers it "one of the biggest issues in our healthcare system — and society at large.”2

But here’s the thing about mental health: it is health. And mental health concerns must be treated with the same importance and urgency as physical issues.

Mental and physical health are on a spectrum.

It’s pretty common to feel blue when you’re fighting off a cold. That’s one way your immune system and mental health intersect. But the relationship goes both ways: your mental health can also affect your immunity. For example, conditions like depression and anxiety are correlated with an active sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. And when your fight-or-flight response is engaged, your immunity is lower. Practicing self-compassion has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and calm the threat system. So, taking time for self-care has the potential to boost both your mood and your immune system.

It may even help your digestion, since your gut is another body system affected by your emotional state, including angry, anxious, and sad feelings. If being stressed out gives you a stomach ache, it’s probably because “stress, depression, and other psychological factors can send the brain-gut connection out of whack and cause alterations to gut physiology." Similarly, what you eat affects your mood. According to research, “a well-chosen diet can help relieve symptoms, improve overall wellbeing and help us cope."

Put simply, while maintaining your mental health is important on its own, it’s also important because it contributes to your physical health — even lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Rest is preventative care.

This is especially relevant to the topic of mental health days because workplace stress is a significant issue for Canadians: 35% of Canadian employees report that they are burned out.3 Burnout is “a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress” that has the effect of making a person feel “emotionally drained and unable to function in the context of work and other aspects of life.”4

Clearly chronic stress should be treated seriously as a health risk. And one of the best things you can do when the stress becomes overwhelming is take a whole day off work. Even better, you can schedule a mental health day proactively if you know you’ll be due for a break after a busy period.5 And reserving your daily lunch break for rest and rejuvenation is a good plan for maintaining better mental health over time.

The proof is in the productivity.

Considering the consequences of workplace stress, you should feel confident taking a mental health day. It benefits both you and your employer. LifeWorks research found those who have a mental health score of -40 or lower are estimated to have a productivity loss of 27%.6

What’s more, employees who work through periods of unwellness have lower mental health indices overall.7 In the August 2022 LifeWorks Mental Health Index, 53% of respondents said they do their job while feeling unwell, either physically or psychologically, at least once a week. The report found that “the mental health score of Canadians who never do their job when feeling unwell (76.4) is nearly 36 points higher than those who work feeling unwell five days per week (42.8).”8

Conclusion

TELUS Health Virtual Care recognizes that mental health is health, and since “most employers agree that behavioral-health conditions should be treated with the same urgency, skill, and compassion as other medical conditions (for example, diabetes) are,”9 your employer probably does too. That’s why we’re here.

So, if you notice signs that your health is suffering, such as mood changes, productivity loss, issues with concentration, irritability, or difficulty sleeping, consider speaking to your manager about taking the day off.10 And if you’re looking for support, you can make an appointment to talk to a mental health specialist on the app.


Sources

1 Coe, E.; Cordina, J.; Enomoto, K. and Seshan, N. (2021, July 23). Overcoming stigma: Three strategies toward better mental health in the workplace. McKinsey. Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/overcoming-stigma-three-strategies-toward-better-mental-health-in-the-workplace

2 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Mental Health Is Health. Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/mental-health-is-health

3 Mental Health Research Canada. (2022, January). Psychological Health and Safety in Canadian Workplaces. Retrieved September 20, 2022 from https://www.mhrc.ca/psychological-health-and-safety-in-canadian-workplaces

4 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Career Burnout. Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/career-burnout#:~:text=Burnout%20is%20a%20state%20of,and%20other%20aspects%20of%20life

5 Cleveland Clinic. (2022, April 11). Is Taking a Mental Health Day Actually Good for You? Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-taking-a-mental-health-day-actually-good-for-you/

6 Lifeworks. (2021, September). The Mental Health Index report: August 2021. Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://lifeworks.com/en/resource/mental-health-index%E2%84%A2-report-august-2021

7 American Psychological Association (2022, June) Reexamine health insurance policies with a focus on employee mental health. Retrieved October 31, 2022 from https://www.apa.org/topics/workplace/mental-health/reexamine-health-insurance

8 Lifeworks. (2022, September). The Mental Health Index report: August 2022 (Canada). Retrieved October 4, 2022 from https://lifeworks.com/en/media/1558/download

9 Coe, E.; Cordina, J.; Enomoto, K. and Seshan, N. (2021, July 23). Overcoming stigma: Three strategies toward better mental health in the workplace. McKinsey. Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/healthcare-systems-and-services/our-insights/overcoming-stigma-three-strategies-toward-better-mental-health-in-the-workplace

10 Caron, C. (2021, July 29). New York Times. When Work Weighs You Down, Take a ‘Sad Day’. Retrieved September 28, 2022 from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/29/well/mind/mental-health-day.html