7 Signs You Need to Take a Mental Health Day (and How to Talk to Your Boss About It)


Creating a Mind Shift to Honor Our Mental Health 

We are quick to honor ourselves when we are sick, taking a PTO day for physical illness without even thinking about it; but do we honor ourselves the same way when we need a day to recharge or reset our mental health? Some interesting facts to consider: 

  • 83% of people believe their colleagues should be allowed to take a mental health day 
  • 24% of people have lied about taking a mental health day 
  • 55% of people who have felt the need to take a mental health day haven’t done so 

So why do we hesitate?  

  • Fear of falling behind 
  • Fear of becoming or being viewed as “less than” by our coworkers 
  • Fear of being less relevant or less valued 
  • We attach our identities to our work 
  • Bottom line is: We perceive that there’s a lot at stake psychologically if we are falling short or underperforming at work 

And what do we do about it? This is really about self-care. Self-care is not selfish! We need to have a mind shift around this. Recognize that self-care is a way to effectively give back to yourself. It’s about prioritizing that your mind and body enable you to work and live in ways that are important and meaningful. Taking a self-care or mental health day and holding on to guilt around that negates the purpose of taking the day. Gifting yourself this much-needed time allows your mental, physical, and work performance to fully align—allowing you to be your best for yourself and others.  

Telltale Signs You Need to Take a Mental Health Day  

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and one of the most important things about this month is recognizing how we can best support our own mental health. As part of that accountability to ourselves, we should first “see it” and learn to recognize the signs of burnout or stress. Here are some classic signs that you are in need of a mental health day: 

  1. You feel exhausted all the time and have no energy. 
  1. You’re less efficient at work. 
  1. You have difficulty concentrating on tasks. 
  1. You’re irritable or impatient with family, friends, or coworkers. 
  1. You’re not motivated at work. 
  1. You get unexplained headaches or stomachaches. 
  1. You have difficulty sleeping or a decreased appetite. 

When you find yourself feeling this way, don’t wait and say “Tomorrow will be better.” Instead, step back, reset, and take a day to yourself. The signs above are your body’s way of “speaking to you” to reset.   

What to Say to Your Boss When You Need a Mental Health Day 

As we raise awareness this month about mental health, one of the things I have found most as a “people leader” is that our talent is often hesitant to take a mental health day. We find it much easier to take a day when we are physically sick but when we need a day to mentally recharge, we often don’t listen to that need. My belief is we should honor our needs whether they are physical or mental…providing ourselves with the self-care we need to be at our best. I hear from employees who don’t know what to say to their managers at times like these, so I thought I’d highlight a few ideas below: 

  • “Good morning…I’m writing to let you know I’ll be taking PTO tomorrow” 
  • “Hey John, just giving you a heads-up: I am going to take a much-needed day to myself on Friday” 
  • “Lisa, I need to fill my glass back up, so I am going to take a long weekend” 
  • “As you know, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, and I really need a day to replenish so I can be at my best” 

Be confident in your communication. It is not necessary to go into any more explanation than that, just as we would not typically go into a lot of detailed explanation of why we are taking a sick day. The best person to recognize you need a mental health day is you! Honor yourself! 

Jennifer Briskin is the Chief People Officer at DEFINITION 6. With more than 30 years of HR and communications experience, Jennifer is a pro at effecting cultural change. She has a strong HR foundation in leadership development, DE&I, health and wellness and professional development 
Jennifer holds a BA in Journalism and an MBA from the University of Maryland.