Who here has called into work sick because you are feeling low and feel unable to go in, but you feel you have to lie and say it’s because of a physical illness instead?
You are not alone. In 2017 in Briton we took over 137 million sick days and of these 15.8 million were for mental health issues.
We are tired, we are overworked, we are stressed and we need a bloody day off am I right? However, we are still made to feel like we are doing something terrible. We are made to feel like we are unreliable, weak and plain liars. But we are not, we are human.
Employers need to start recognising the importance of annual leave and ‘mental health’ days. Nowadays employees work just as hard but we are more open to the fact that it’s not weak to be struggling. We can struggle with workloads, we can struggle outside of work which then can reflect in our performance – but this is normal. We are not robots and shouldn’t be made to feel like failures because we are on hard times.
Why are we made to feel like we are ‘bunking’ off work if we choose to have a day looking after ourselves? Don’t get me wrong, I understand there’s a fine line between taking the day off work to relax and re-boost and taking the day slacking off to go to the cinema. That’s why I believe with some structure Employers would be able to allow for mental health days without employees possibly taking it too far. Let’s recognise the line and provide support for those living with a mental illness who may be struggling and on occasion may not be able to come to work. Surely it’s better to have an employee at their best rather than someone come in and be unable to perform?
A friend shared with me recently that their colleague had taken some time off due to their mental health. The colleague had been completely honest that it was because of their mental health and that they would return to work as soon as they could. Once they did they were asked to complete a return-to-work meeting, a regular process we all know, held with their HR manager. That manager proceeded to make the employee feel guilty that they were “Letting the team down” by taking that time off.
As you can expect I was seething. This is disgusting behaviour that can make the situation far worse for the individual and for the employer. Guilt can make anxiety develop further and is the worst thing you can do when talking to someone who is living with a mental illness. If you are an employer reading this – please do not take this approach, you may be short staffed and this is understandable, but if you want to keep people you have to remember to treat them like humans, not cogs on a conveyor belt.
Each employer is different and will have a range of processes, however I would urge you to introduce them to the Time to Change campaign – this organisation are working extremely hard to change how we see mental illness and how employers can support their employees. If we keep promoting the importance of self-care and putting your mental health first, we can continue to change work processes.
I beg you, when you call in sick next because of your mental health, even if you don’t feel comfortable explaining the reason – please don’t be hard on yourself. You are only human, it is not your fault that we are still stigmatised if we need time off. What you can do though is spread awareness and continue to work on yourself.
You are not alone. Keep fighting.