NEWS Mental Health News Why Taking a Mental Health Day Often Isn't Enough By Jo Yurcaba Jo Yurcaba Jo Yurcaba is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. Learn about our editorial process Updated on January 23, 2023 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Emily Swaim Fact checked by Emily Swaim LinkedIn Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell. Learn about our editorial process Share Tweet Email Print Pixdeluxe / Getty Images Key Takeaways Often, when people are struggling with their mental health, they're told by employers or friends to "take a mental health day," but that is not a holistic solution to the worsening mental health crisis.Real investments in mental health include: better mental health education in K through 12 schools, more support in universities, and comprehensive healthcare reform. You might have had someone say it to you before: "Oh, just take a mental health day." It's not a bad suggestion. Experts say mental health days can help people feel replenished and ready to return to work. But they are not a long-term solution to the mental health crisis the U.S. is facing. Fittingly, the theme of World Mental Health Day this year is investment in mental health. Investment requires more than just taking the occasional mental health day, and experts say it needs to start in the workplace. "If companies can view their employees as human beings, not as productivity machines, productivity will actually probably increase, because when people feel mentally well, they're more productive," says Eve Rosenfeld, a doctoral student in psychology at SUNY Buffalo. Sometimes Mental Health Days Can Help Taking days off can help you feel better when you're struggling emotionally. "A mental health day gives our bodies and our brains time to rest and repair," says Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. "When we are working, we are often in 'doing mind' which is an ambitious and goal-oriented state of mind where we are focused on problem solving," Cohen says. "To be psychologically healthy, we must also spend time in 'being mind', which is nothing-to-do mind and present-oriented, where we are focused on the uniqueness of each moment." Doing things you enjoy also has proven mental health benefits. "Pleasant activity scheduling, which is also known as behavioral activation, is one of the most well-researched treatments for depression and is proven to boost mood," Cohen says. Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD To be psychologically healthy, we must spend time in 'being mind', which is nothing-to-do mind and present-oriented, where we are focused on the uniqueness of each moment. — Jeffrey Cohen, PsyD To get the most out of your mental health day, try to commit to doing nothing, says Broderick Sawyer, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in race-based trauma and mindfulness. He suggests that people make a list of things that make them feel good, and then pick something to do off of that list on a mental health day. "If you're going to take a mental health day, actually take the day off," Sawyer says. "You don't have your email open. You're doing exactly what replenishes you." If you have a history of depression, watching movies all day could exacerbate your symptoms. Sawyer suggests making plans to see family or friends, exercising or practicing yoga, or cooking. Mental Health Days Help Kids, But Systemic Barriers Prevent Widespread Use Why Mental Health Days Are a Temporary Solution Most part-time employees do not receive paid sick time and can't afford to take time off as a result. "It is a privilege to be able to take a mental health day," Sawyer says. "The people who have the most difficult time actually getting the time off are the ones who need it the most." Marginalized communities such as Black people and LGBTQ+ people have higher rates of poverty, homelessness, and face more discrimination. They also have worse mental health outcomes throughout their lives. Those two issues can feed a cycle of job insecurity, worsened mental and physical health, and debt. Broderick Sawyer, PhD When you're fighting literally for your life and trying to get systems to acknowledge you so that you don't die, that's traumatic. — Broderick Sawyer, PhD When marginalized people are not working, they might be participating in growing advocacy efforts like the Black Lives Matter protests, which take a further mental health toll, Sawyer says. "You have to maintain a certain level of energy to engage in protests," he says. "But... when you're fighting literally for your life and trying to get systems to acknowledge you so that you don't die, that's traumatic." Taking an occasional day off here and there is not enough to heal the trauma caused by systemic racism and discrimination. Additionally, even when mental health days are accessible, many people fear taking them due to the stigma associated with mental illness. "You might feel uncomfortable telling your boss or your employer that you need to use a mental health day, because maybe you feel that it communicates to them that there's something wrong with you or that you're not a serious employee or that you're too overwhelmed with your work," Rosenfeld says. "That promotion that was on the table might be at risk if you're taking mental health days, and that shouldn't have to be the case." Related: White Supremacy's Impact on Mental Health of BIPOC Folks What Real Investment in Mental Health Looks Like Rosenfeld, Sawyer, and Cohen all say employers need to invest more in mental health. In addition to the benefits to employees, it would also save companies money. A 2018 analysis from Penn State University found that "a single extra poor mental health day in a month was associated with a 1.84% drop in the per capita real income growth rate, resulting in $53 billion less total income each year." Researchers said this shows how much businesses stand to gain by investing in employee mental health from the beginning. Insurance companies also do not provide adequate coverage for mental health, Cohen says, noting that a 2019 report commissioned by the Mental Health Treatment and Research Institute found that a mental health visit is more than five times as likely to be out of network compared to a primary care visit. "Unfortunately, going out of network is often the only option for mental health treatment," Cohen says. "Many mental health providers cannot afford to accept insurance because insurance companies do not adequately reimburse mental health providers for their services." He says employers could also proactively give employees out-of-network benefits for mental health treatment. Broderick Sawyer, PhD There's no mental health education in K through 12 [school] systems to help people prevent the need for mental health days in the first place. — Broderick Sawyer, PhD But Sawyer notes that investing in mental health needs to be a collaborative effort between corporations, government agencies, schools and universities, and nonprofit groups. "There's no mental health education in K through 12 [school] systems to help people prevent the need for mental health days in the first place," he says. Additionally, the government could invest in mental health by providing funding for treatments that work. "Not all mental health treatments are effective," Cohen says. "Cognitive behavior therapy has the most research support and is the most helpful treatment for many people in clinical practice. It is not enough for the government to provide access to mental health treatment; people deserve access to treatments that are actually proven to work." Addressing the growing mental health crisis in the U.S. has to be multi-pronged. That won't happen through a few mental health days. What This Means For You If you can take mental health days when you need them, then you should. But be mindful of what you actually need. Will you feel worse if you lie around and watch TV for most of the day? If so, try doing something that makes you happy, like going for a hike.If you can't take mental health days, Sawyer recommends "taking inventory." Write down your daily activities, and note which ones cause you stress and which bring you joy. Then, "edit" your days in the ways you can. If you notice you are more anxious after having two cups of coffee and watching the news, for example, have one cup of coffee and don't watch the news. 8 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. 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Pediatrics. 2016;137(6):e20152467. doi:10.1542/peds.2015-2467 Davlasheridze M, Goetz S, Han Y. The effect of mental health on U.S. County economic growth. Rev Region Stud. 2018;48(2):155-71. Milliman Research. Addiction and mental health vs. physical health: Widening disparities in network use and provider reimbursement. By Jo Yurcaba Jo Yurcaba is a freelance writer specializing in mental health. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist Online Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.