“A mental health day is never wrong.”
“Our mental health is as important as our physical health. You have to take care of you first, or you will be no good to your students.”
“Mental health days can be a game changer.”
These wise words were written by teachers in our WeAreTeachers Helpline on Facebook. They were written in response to an educator who wrote in seeking advice. She really wanted to take a mental health day—she was afraid she might soon have a panic attack from all the stress—but it was a busy time of year. She was worried, hesitant, and stressed.
The teachers were loud and clear in their feedback, though. Yes, teachers should be able to take mental health days. And no, they shouldn’t feel guilty one bit.
Are you curious about the idea of teacher mental health days? Have you thought about taking one yourself? Here are some questions you might ask yourself about teacher mental health to help you figure out if taking one is right for you.
1. What is a mental health day?
We now have a pretty good idea of what mental health days are: A day taken as a mental break from the stress(es) of work. But this wasn’t always the case. Last year when web developer Madalyn Parker sent an email to her boss, saying that she was taking a mental health day,the exchange went viral. She had written, “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
Madalyn’s words struck a nerve with people around the world, and it was retweeted more than 15,000 times. It also helped bring the topic of mental health days more into the forefront.
Similar to having the flu or a broken bone, supporters of mental health days want teachers to be able to take days for things like anxiety and depression, too.
2. Why would I need a mental health day?
Only you can answer this question. If you’re considering taking a mental health day, really think about this question and try to identify the core problem. Are you feeling depressed? Stressed? Burnt out?
When trying to decide if you really need a day away from school, think about what you would be like if you went to school. Would you be distracted and disconnected? Would you be able to teach and give your students a good experience? If the answer is no, really try to understand what’s going on at a deeper level.
3. What will I do all day?
Maybe staying in your PJs all day and watching Netflix sounds like a great plan for a reset, but it won’t make your mental state better. And if it does, that’s essentially putting a bandage over the problem. Think about how you can make it a productive day on a path to feeling better.
For some that could mean making an appointment with a mental health specialist or practicing yoga or meditation. Others might need to clean out a closet and catch up on “life chores” that have been weighing them down. Carefully planning how you’ll spend your time in a productive manner is essential before calling in. You want this day to set into motion the help you need in the long run.
4. How will a mental health day help me?
If your answer is that you simply need a day away from your students, teachers’ lounge, and lesson planning—that’s great. If taking a mini break to focus on anything but school will help you return feeling fresh and excited, then that’s a valid reason to stay home.
Maybe you need a day to catch up on work you’ve been putting off. If that will help alleviate feelings of being bogged down, go for it. Whatever your answer, it just needs to fit into and support your long-term needs.
5. What happens after I take the day off?
One day of self-care won’t magically make mental-health issues disappear. It’s just the start of a bigger plan to make self-care a top priority. Think of it as day one on a journey to start incorporating things that make you feel stronger into your daily routine. Then actively seek out ways to make progress on your own.
6. What should I tell my principal?
You might not feel as comfortable as Madalyn Parker and directly tell your whole school that you’re taking a day off for your mental health. That’s okay. You know what’s best within your school’s culture.
You can tell your principal that you’re not feeling well (which is true), or you can simply say you’re taking a personal day and leave it at that.
7. Am I the only one going through this?
If you’re still feeling unsure (and please, PLEASE don’t feel guilty), take comfort in knowing you’re not alone. The US Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 17 percent of the US population is functioning at optimal mental health. And one in five people experiences a diagnosable mental health condition at any given time.
Meanwhile, the Center for Prevention and Health estimates mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers up to $105 billion annually due to reduced productivity, absenteeism, and increased healthcare costs. So you do you, and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Your mental health is important.
What’s your opinion about mental health days? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, check out resources for helping get teachers better mental health.