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The Signs It's Time To Take A Mental Health Day – And How To Talk To Your Employer About It

Repeat after us: no job is worth risking my mental health for.

It’s not usually hard to tell when you need a sick day from work — but the signs you need a mental health day can be a lot harder to spot.

If you’ve got a fever, for example, staying home for the day is a no-brainer. However, when the symptoms aren’t physical, it’s easy to convince yourself that it’s not that bad and that you should just go into work.

But just because the symptoms of emotional exhaustion don’t manifest in the same way the symptoms of, say, the flu does – it doesn’t mean they’re any less serious. After all, learning to pay attention to what your body and mind are telling you is instrumental for your wellbeing.

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Of course, it’s not exactly surprising that so many of us are unclear on when a mental health day might be in order; our culture’s attitude towards mental health tends to both stigmatize and minimize our emotional and mental painNew research by graduate job board Milkround found that taking a mental health day is something that 49% of people still feel they can’t do, with only 14% of workers reporting they could be honest about taking a mental health sick day. 

It’s clear that the stigma around taking mental health days still needs to be broken down, and we all need to educate ourselves on why it’s appropriate to take a day off work for our mental health. Below, Dee McCormick, Pre-Accredited MIACP, gives her advice on when to know it’s time to take a day off and prioritise your mental health.


"I think we can all struggle with the pace of modern life. It’s always switched on and immediate. There is very little time to rest and digest," says McCormick. Although mental health is not a 'one size fits all' diagnosis meaning we each have our own warning signs that we are approaching burn out, McCormick says there are six common signs to look out for: 

  • Poor sleep
  • Poor nutrition
  • Loss of Interest in life or in what we normally enjoyed
  • Low Mood 
  • Irritability
  • Feeling Emotional

"Think of it like a traffic light system," suggests McCormick. "When we are well with good self-care and wellbeing then we are green. When things are beginning to get on top of us and we are starting to run down, we’re orange. If we ignore that orange “check engine” light…we are heading for burnout. Red is the stop sign. The body will rebel against the demands we have been putting on it. We might get rundown, become ill or just hit a wall."

the trick is to lay the foundation of self-care while we are green.

"The trick is to lay the foundation of self-care while we are green," says McCormick. "Then we can become more resilient and have the capacity to deal with the ups and downs of life. It will also make us more aware to see the warning signs."


It can be all too easy to convince yourself that poor mental health isn’t a good enough reason to take time off work. If you’re physically able to work, why not go in and get paid? But remember that your mental health is just as important to your overall well-being as your physical health. Just like any bout of illness or bodily distress, your mind needs time to rest and recover. "We have all been the victim of our own work ethic and times. This idea that we need to power through and put on a brave face is quite damaging," says McCormick. 

If we were more open to having these conversations, we would realise the commonality of these feelings.

"It’s ok not to be ok," says McCormick. "If we were more open to having these conversations, we would realise the commonality of these feelings. 

"Life is so precious and it is short. We need to put ourselves first. This is not in a selfish way but in a pragmatic way. An empty battery can’t power anything. We need to recharge ourselves to be able to serve our purpose, help others, raise children, do the dishes and everything else life throws our way."

the how to talk to your employer:

Unfortunately, the debate over mental health days is still prevalent in many companies. Meaning, what you say to your boss is important.

"I would love to be able to say that all workplaces are accommodating and approachable when it comes to issues of mental health but sadly, we’re not there yet," says McCormick. "Some bosses are empathic and realise the importance of minding your mental health, others see only the practicalities of workloads and deadlines."

Don't ignore the warning sings. better to take one day now to re-group and re-charge than take several months in the future due to burn out.

"What I would say is don’t ignore your warning signs. Better to take one day now to re-group and re-charge than take several months in the future due to illness and burn out." It may be frustrating if you’re unable to directly explain why you need time off, but as long as you’re honest in that you’re sick, not specifying it’s for your mental health is fine.

Remember, when you’re requesting time off, it’s ok to be brief. You don’t need to go into detail about why you’re taking a sick day or mental health day (unless you want to), but don’t feel like you need to justify or explain it to anyone.


The goal is not to get out of work; it’s to heal your mind so you can return feeling more relaxed, positive, and ready for a productive day. Mental health days are necessary for healthy, happy employees and a better workplace overall. "Even taking one day in a blue moon just for you can be enough to reset the balance," says McCormick. "We need to take a step back on occasion to gain perspective on life. It can actually help us be more productive when we come back to work because the resentment and irritability will have lessened."


It may feel weird at first to do things like getting a massage or sitting in the park on a day that you’d otherwise be working. But these activities can go a long way toward helping you feel better. Once you take your first mental health day, it’ll only be easier to take them in the future and not feel guilty about it.

If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, there is help available: 

  • Samaritans – 116 123  – [email protected] or [email protected]
  • Pieta House – 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444
  • Aware -  1800 80 48 48
  • Childline – 1800 66 66 66 or free text 50101

Main image by @livincool

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