To the Professor I Told I Needed a 'Mental Health Day'


Since I started college, I knew if I needed to miss class because of a mental health reason, then I was going to have to play up a physical ailment to use when the excuse “mental health day” didn’t come rolling out of my tongue or make it into my email. I usually just used food poisoning and bad sushi, but what I really meant was, “I’m having a panic attack and I’m not OK.”  Or even worse, “I’m so depressed I can’t get out of bed, let alone get dressed for class.”

Even so, I felt I was cheating myself out of my own life. If I couldn’t admit I needed a day for the mental portion of my health, wasn’t I creating more of a problem for myself?

I spent four years using excuses like those, until one day I gained the courage to send you an email, in which I used the phrase “mental health day” and “I’ll be back next class, but not today.” My stomach turned; I felt like perhaps I might actually have gotten a physical illness. It was all just a bad case of nerves and the underlying weight of admitting to an academic professional I didn’t have everything together.

But it isn’t any of those things I hold on to the most. It was the next day, when I went in to work. You happened to stop by the office and see me there, pale-faced, bags under my eyes, clutching a cup of coffee for dear life. I avoided looking your way, fearing the judgment I assumed was coming for me. You picked up your mail and stepped over to my desk to ask the five words I never expected to hear anyone say.

“Are you doing better today?”

For someone who has been struggling with depression, anxiety, stress disorders and normal college stress, I’d never been asked that. I’d spent four years of my life either faking my way through classes or creating an illness I assumed would carry more weight than whatever emotional baggage I had that day. Instead of laughing off my excuse as laziness, you came and asked if I was OK. You didn’t even have a backstory or know what it was I was struggling with. You simply took me at my word and wanted to make sure I’d come back to a better place.

In a world where mental health is still stigmatized and attendance is valued highly, thank you. Thank you for understanding that even though the words were easy for you to read, they weren’t easy for me to convey. Thank you for doing the one thing I never expected: treating me with respect, like a human being. I will carry that memory with me long past graduation.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Mental Health

Demi Lovato at the DNC

Demi Lovato Made a Bold Statement About Mental Illness at the Democratic National Convention

Speaking on the first day of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, PA on Monday, singer and outspoken mental health advocate Demi Lovato used her time on stage to talk about how politicians need to support laws that make mental health care more accessible. She said: “Like millions of Americans, I am living with mental [...]
Two girls smiling as they use a smartphone in a cafe

To the People Who Still Need Me in the Midst of My Mental Illnesses

There have been so many days in the last 10 years that my mental illnesses have taken from me. I have been in the darkest of places, from which I never thought I could recover. My sexual assault altered the course of my life. It, quite literally, marked the day my old self died, and [...]
a man waving goodbye to a woman, who's smiling on a train

What I Really Mean When I Say 'I'll See You Tomorrow'

It doesn’t seem like much when someone says to you “I’ll see you tomorrow.” It’s a statement we hear quite often. Different people say it to us every day in differing contexts. Lovers, friends, colleagues, family. It’s a statement we probably don’t think twice about after we hear it. When I say it, I am [...]
Microphone in focus against unrecognizable crowd

To the Political Leaders Who Address Mental Illness Without Care

To Whom It May Concern, You do not know me, but I am a young voter from a very small town in Ohio. It is a place where children can play freely, cut off from the rest of the word — or so it can seem. I grew up there, and it will always be [...]