The Case for Taking a Mental Health Day

I'd be lying if I said that my job title doesn't breed a little insecurity about my wellness routine—namely that I'm not exactly sanctimonious with my nutrition and fitness choices 100% of the time. But I think the fact that I requested the first mental health day of my adult life just over a month ago says less about my own fallibility than it does about the deeply rooted stigma that still taints even the more progressive corners of our society. My current workplace fully endorses the concept that happy and well-rested employees do better work, for example, but I can still taste the frantic guilt of taking an actual sick day—fevered and bedridden—in the earlier years of my career. It's a hard feeling to shake, even as a vocal proponent of mental wellness. And it's no wonder, since our culture has spent thousands of years condemning this very human need as weakness.

"The stigmatization of mental health follows a long and winding path, dating at least as far back as ancient Greece," says Heather Silvestri, a New York City–based psychologist. "The stigma is so pesky that even something as obviously valid as taking a mental health day can raise eyebrows in the current marketplace. In fact, when we refer to our mental health, we are acknowledging the existence of an internal world that needs tending and care, and the sheer idea of that often makes people uncomfortable."

The irony (especially for those prone to perfectionist tendencies or impostor syndrome, like me) is that caring for these needs ultimately allows us to feel more stable and do better in the world. "We disregard our mental health at our own peril because, ironically, illusions of invulnerability tend to cause us to be even more at risk for breaking down," says Silvestri. Because we've spent so many centuries prioritizing the concrete over the abstract—our physical maladies over our mental world—we're only just beginning to shed the false implications of emotional wellness. In reality, taking a day for your mental health is just as invaluable as recouping from a bad cold.

Keep reading to learn how to remove guilt from the equation and take an optimal mental health day.