By now most people have either seen the viral twitter feed that has been shared about one womans need to take some time as a “mental health day”. If not, one source can be found at the end of this post. The upshot is an employee that messaged her team at work to tell them she was taking a couple of sick days forreasons. The response from her company CEO was highly favorable and supportive – which many found surprising and generate much debate regarding physical vs mental health and use of sick days versus vacation days.
It is my view that vacation should be for enjoyment purposes, whereas a mental health day is about care for a need in order to function in a healthy way. If I don’t self-care for an infection, I get sick and infect others. If I don’t self-care for office stress, I will also get sick and infect others (with toxic behaviors). The idea that the mind is some mystical force that is somehow exists apart from bodies and not a part of our total being needs to stop. Its not a matter of Body vs Mind – they exist together in what we call “You”.
Mental health (be it actual conditions, illness, dysfunction, what-have-you) needs to be preserved and given equal treatment as other other kind of sick leave. Now some organizations have taken steps to remove the distinction between what kind of sick or personal time you are taking. Sometimes this is done with rather questionable motives – such as imposing harsher restrictions on employee time away from work. When done well, it offers the employee the privacy and discretion to take the time needed while considering their resources and priorities.
Personal health (physical, mental, or otherwise), work obligations, family obligations, etc., are still all obligations. Ignore any one too much and it negatively impacts your life.
Which brings me to a related but slightly tangential point – you have ONE life you are living. We tend to overly fraction the concept of our lives by breaking them into distinct categories of Work, Family, Friends, Love, Hobbies, etc. When one area impacts another in terms of demanding our time or resources we commonly say things like “well, you know, life got in the way”. No.. life didn’t get in the way of something that isn’t life. What got in the way was competing priorities, demands for resources (time, money, etc), psycho-emotional drivers, etc. But its easier to say that life got in the way versus saying “I chose to put my time elsewhere” because it either removes us from holding ourselves responsible and accountable for our choices, or to avoid our own guilt or potential for conflict by communicating a choice that was made which might make the other person feel somehow less important, diminished, or insulted.
The former is irresponsible, the latter is assuming personal responsibility for other peoples shortcomings. Neither is healthy.
You have ONE life which you are living in the here and now because there is only ONE you. That includes all the multi-faceted wonder and glory of your whole being – all your interests and passions, all your connections, all your Self. That means making choices about what guise we wear, what aspects we let live and breathe, what choices we make to spend or invest our time and effort. There is only one of us, just as there is only one now in which we are living. That means taking care of things as a whole, taking responsibility for our selves and our whole life. Sometimes that means focusing on matters of our support systems and connection (e.g. family, friends, community, etc). Sometimes that means focusing on what we need to do for survival, such as the job or career. Sometimes that means focusing on our health, no matter what kind of health that may be.
Like anything else we do have the choice to lower and raise priorities according to the situation at hand. If we let our attention wane in our connections then relationships begin to fail. If we choose to ignore work obligations then our ability to survive may be at risk as financial resources dwindle. If we ignore matters of our health then we begin to break down, become dysfunctional, and potentially begin to threaten the welfare of those around us. Mental health is still HEALTH.
Alternatively, we can Ignore matters of mental health, but then we should not be surprise when there’s increase in behavior that cannot be self-managed; like, oh I dunno, assault and shooting rampages…