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Why We Need to Take Mental Health 'Sick Days' Seriously

Yesterday I was feeling sick. I had gone to bed the night before with a headache and was awake at 4 a.m. feeling nauseous. I woke up in the morning with an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion. I got up, got the kids off to school, came home and went back to bed — sleeping for another four hours.

It was after lunch by the time I got out of bed again. I hadn’t done the laundry, washed the dishes or anything that I should have been doing. We ordered Chinese for dinner because I was still too tired to cook, barely keeping my eyes open long enough to check Facebook.

Yesterday though, I didn’t feel guilty for not doing all the things I should have been doing. I was feeling physically sick. Why then, do I feel so guilty when I’m having a bad mental health day and spend the whole day doing nothing? Why am I so hard on myself when it’s mental illness that’s keeping me down? Mental illness should not be considered any different than physical illness. This is the type of stigma I’m trying to break. This is the message I’m trying to get out to people: it’s still an illness, and here I am being judgmental on myself.

Self-stigmatization can be hard to stop. It’s what the world has taught us — that we should be strong, that being “sad” isn’t an excuse not to get on with things. I believe this has become so ingrained in our way of thinking that it’s hard to break out of. But we need to, because it’s just plain wrong.

We need to be kinder to ourselves. We need to accept that mental illness can be, and is, just as difficult to deal with as physical illness, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about that. If we can’t stop beating ourselves up for having a bad day, then how can we expect others to stop? It starts with us. We need to show the world a different way. Show people that it’s OK to slow down and rest when you’re having a bad mental health day, just like it’s OK to take the day off and sleep when you’re feeling physically unwell. We can do better.

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Thinkstock photo via Kitzcorner