We are in an era, at least comparatively, where we are recognizing that we have this thing called mental health, and that it requires attention and tender care. It’s a beautiful time to be in this field and to see the fruits of so much work on destigmatization finally start to blossom.
But before I ride away into the sunset, though, we have to recognize where we still have much work to do. And one of those places is the need for time off work for mental healthcare.
Some of us have gotten more comfortable with the concept of a “mental health day” and will use our PTO periodically for some extra sleep or a day to decompress. But many fewer of us have given serious thought to taking weeks or months away from work to heal.
The idea that we will work for an entire career – decades upon decades – and never need to step away for a period of time to tend to our mental and emotional well-being is simply absurd.
Most of us would easily comply with our doctor’s orders that we take six or eight weeks off after a surgery, or would let our work know that we’ll be out while we tend to someone else’s health crisis.
But when it comes to our mental and emotional health, we are leery of stepping away. Many of us fear – and not without good reason in some cases – that we’ll be judged by our companies, denied our request, or that we’ll have to sit with our own feeling of discomfort or shame.
We also often fear what implications time off will have on our financial security, and those can be, of course, real and valid questions. What I notice, however, is that the mere thought of losing income – combined with the stigma and deprioritization of mental health – shuts down our thought process about taking time off. This in turn prevents us from even thinking about what that could look like and if our financial situation could allow it – even with some creative solutions or requests for financial support.
Let’s break down today when you might benefit from taking time away from work to focus on your mental health. Here are some questions to consider:
How are my mental health symptoms impacting my ability to perform my job and the quality of the work I am doing? Will that have longer term implications?
How is my job impacting my mental health symptoms?
How is my job impacting my ability to get the appropriate treatment (including rest, nutrition, stress reduction)?
If I don’t take the time to address this now, will I need to at a later date? What implications might that have?
What story might I be telling myself about what it means to take time away from working?
What values would it serve to take this time to address my mental health?
What would taking time off model to others (colleagues. friends, family, etc.) about the value of caring for one’s self?
What is my biggest fear about stepping away? Who could I explore and address this fear with?
What are the implications of taking this time off or not taking this time off in six weeks? Six months? Six years?
My hope for all of us is that our relationship to work doesn’t hold our mental and emotional well-being hostage. I hope that we have access to the resources we need to allow us to care for ourselves in the ways that we need to. And I hope that we help foster a world where stigma and barriers to care no longer exist.