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Optimize Your Mental Health Days

Five ways to utilize leave from work for mental health.

People have utilized time off for mental health reasons for ages yet only recently have we talked openly about this in our culture. In fact, one study showed that two of the top three reasons for individuals to take a leave from work for a health challenge are related to mental health (Alonso et al., 2007). A growing number of companies are offering explicitly labeled mental health days. In some states, schoolchildren are offered a dictated number of mental health days, for example, in Illinois, public school students are entitled to five mental health days each year.

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As a therapist and a human, I applaud this. Time to de-stress can be vital to preserving wellness and as many as one in four Americans is managing a mental health condition like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder where a day from work may be necessary from time to time to keep ahold of.

1. Schedule Mental Health Days Ahead of Time if Possible

It might not always be possible to plan your mental health days. For example, if you are experiencing significant mental health symptoms you might have little warning. If possible, however, scheduling a mental health day can give sight of a welcome respite. You can also schedule your mental health days for strategic times such as after a high-stress period like the end of a quarter.

2. Let Go of Unwarranted Guilt

Our brains are connected to the rest of our bodies. Mental health is health. In our work-centered culture, it’s normal to feel some guilt for taking a break. This guilt is unwarranted. You can only be there for others if you can be there for yourself.

3. Avoid Using Mental Health Days as a Way to Evade Things That Cause You Stress

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While it might be tempting to take a mental health day to get out of a stressful event, such as a meeting with a supervisor, it could make your stress worse. Avoiding things that cause us anxiety might alleviate tension in the short term, but avoidance re-enforces anxiety by making the event even more troubling the next go around. Rather than avoiding the day of the task, perhaps take a day the day after.

4. Reach Out to Supportive Others

If you are taking time off for mental health reasons, this may be a prime time to reach out to your support system. You could get coffee with a friend or call family. A mental health day might also be an ideal space for a therapy session.

5. Make a Plan for Your Day

Each person’s optimal mental health day might look a little different. Still, for many, a day with no plans can add to boredom and anxiety. If this is you, consider setting up a few enriching activities. This could be as simple as planning to visit a park or bookstore.


Alonso, J., Petukhova, M., Vilagut, G., Chatterji, S., Heeringa, S., Üstün, T. B., & Kessler, R. C. (2011). Days out of role due to common physical and mental conditions: results from the WHO World Mental Health surveys. Molecular psychiatry, 16(12), 1234-1246.

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