Should Teachers Take Mental Health Days?

If you’re burning the candle at both ends, you need to read on.

teachers and mental health days

Over the summer, a web developer by the name of Madalyn Parker sent the following email to her colleagues: “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.” Her boss responded with praise and thanks for the important reminder that sick days should be used for mental health . . . the exchange went viral and was retweeted over 10,000 times. A nerve was struck. The stigma over taking care of our mental health in the same way we would the flu was finally at the forefront.

Bottom line, we must take care of our brain the way we would any other injury or illness. Functioning at your peak performance and giving all to your school and students is near impossible otherwise. When you’re feeling depleted of energy, it’s hard to replenish amid a classroom full of kids who need every bit of attention you can give them. You wouldn’t walk on a broken leg so why would you try to teach when you’re depressed, anxious, exhausted and running on fumes?

The biggest reason, of course, is the lack of vacation and personal days you may or may not have available. But, those days are there for a reason. So, if the voice inside is nagging you to stay home—you should listen. If the decision is still weighing you down, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why do I need a mental health day?

Really go inward and try to identify the core problem. Are you feeling depressed? Burnt out? Will you be distracted and disconnected from your students if you go to school? Understanding what’s happening on a deeper level is imperative in getting the right care and help.

2. What will I do all day?

Maybe staying in your PJs all day and bingeing The Crown sounds like a great plan but it won’t make your mental state better. And if it does, that’s essentially putting a band-aid 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/meditation. Others might need to clean out a closet and catch up on “life” chores that have been weighing you 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.

3. 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 you know 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.

4. What happens after I take this day(s) 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.

5. What should I tell my principal?

You might not feel as comfortable as Madalyn Parker to 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 the 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.

6. 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 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 17% of the U.S. population is functioning at optimal mental health. And 1 in 5 people experience 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.

Never feel unsure about making any aspect of your health a top priority!


Posted by Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal

Lauren West-Rosenthal is a senior editor at WeAreTeachers. In the fourth grade, she started writing "bonus chapters" to her favorite books. Her teacher was impressed -- and encouraging -- and a vast writing career was born!

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