How to Tell Your Boss You Need a Mental Health Day

And why you shouldn't feel bad about asking for one.

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In today's world, taking a mental health day shouldn't be taboo. And yet, if it's not actively encouraged in your workplace, it can feel anxiety-inducing to ask for one. But rather than avoid taking time off out of fear of what your boss might say, think, or do, we encourage you to find a way that works best for you in making this type of request. After all, taking time off for mental health should be seen as a form of self-preservation, not self-indulgence, says trauma psychologist Jennifer M. Gómez, Ph.D. To help you out, we spoke with Dr. Gómez and mental health experts to get their best tips and advice on what to say when calling in sick for mental health.

Keep scrolling for how to go about requesting a mental health day.

The Benefits of Taking a Mental Health Day

Prioritizing your health has as much to do with your body as it does with your mind. Regardless of why you might need to take a mental health day — job burnout, family issues, stress, anxiety, or just because — setting time aside to practice self-care wields loads of benefits. "Mental health days are one such strategy in our process of healing," Dr. Gómez tells us. Also, on a practical level, mental health days are also necessary for productivity, adds psychiatrist Kali D. Cyrus, M.D., M.P.H. "You can't get work done in an environment of chaos ... and if you're feeling mentally unhealthy," she says.

How to Request a Mental Health Day

"In the ideal world, bosses would proactively make it clear that anyone could have a mental health day ..., close the office for a day, or even just say that they understand people will not be working at their best," Dr. Cyrus says. And while some businesses do grant their employees time off to recover from work-induced stress, not everyone has caught up with the times. However, even if your manager falls into this latter bucket, don't let it deter you from asking for what you need. If you're in a position where you're able to take time off, put in a work request for a mental health day — and feel more comfortable doing it. Here's how:

1. Plan What You’re Going To Say

It seems like an obvious tip, but in the moment, if you're nervous about what you're asking for, any preparation you've done will come in clutch.

"It's important to prepare what you're going to say before you reach out to human resources or your supervisor," says mental health activist Dior Vargas. "It's important to be in the mindset that you are deserving of a mental health day if you're overwhelmed. It also helps to word your request as something that would benefit the company. An example might be, 'I wanted to discuss taking a mental health day. Since working on our current project, I've been feeling that my productivity isn't at the level that I would like it to be at. Taking a day off would help me refresh and better achieve the goals I have for this position.'"

2. Keep It Simple

If the idea of talking about mental health with your boss is causing you more stress, then save yourself some hassle by not getting specific. If your company is more traditional and not as open to mental health days, consider taking a sick day. Dr. Cyrus recommends keeping it short: "'I'm not feeling well today and would like to call in sick' — because feeling emotionally sick counts. Or, 'I'm unable to come in due to personal reasons.'"

3. Ask in Advance

Ideally, whenever you're planning to take time off, advance notice should be given. This will give you and your colleagues time to prepare for when you're OOO. While your concerns with asking for a mental health day might be more emotion-driven, your boss is more likely to think practically. Call in reinforcements with help from your co-workers if you need them to pick up the slack while you're out, and let your boss know soon so they can restructure if necessary.

4. Don't Explain Yourself

It might seem easy to slip into a detailed description of your mental health status or feel pressured to explain your request with specifics, but you really don't have to if you don't want to. Remember that you don't owe anyone an explanation beyond the bare-bones details — not even your boss.

Speaking of bare-bones: The bare minimum you should be able to expect from your boss is that they can empathize with you even if they aren't sharing a specific experience of yours. After you take any of these routes and ask for your mental health day, their answer should be something along the lines of, "Sounds good, feel better." It doesn't have to be a drawn-out conversation on either end.

Alternatives to Taking a Mental Health Day

It's important to address that not everyone has the ability to take a mental health day. "People who work hourly jobs may be fired if they take a day off, or simply cannot afford the loss in pay ... Even salaried workers may have already used up their sick days," Dr. Gómez says.

So what can you do if taking a mental health day simply is not possible? Try to find a mental health hour or two. "We can fit a mental health day into a smaller piece that works for us. When we finish work, we can take an hour to ourselves to journal," Dr. Gómez tells us. "Or maybe on a day off or when we can't sleep, we get on the phone with a close friend and talk about the perils of the world, as well as our shared, joyful memories from childhood. No matter what our life is looking like, we still squeeze in time for ourselves."

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