Feeling burnt out at work? Here are 4 signs you need a mental health day.

When was the last time you took a mental health day off work when you needed to? If you can't remember, it's not necessarily something to wear as a badge of honour.

In 2020, it's time we all acknowledge mental health struggles as a legitimate reason for using a sick day. We're not talking about calling in sick every time you'd rather stay in bed, but doing so before you find yourself on the brink of burnout.

This is especially true in these times. Along with processing and living with the practicalities of what's happening in the news, each of us has our own unique set of circumstances outside of our jobs. 

Add relationship issues, health concerns, financial struggles, family commitments, caring for loved ones and other personal weight on top of a busy job and there's a good chance you'll crumble at some point.

This is exactly what mental health days (which many companies recognise as sick days) are for. Just like you would if you had the flu or hurt your back, it's a day (or days) you're entitled to use to rest and recover.

Even though a 2017 Beyond Blue report showed one in every five Australians had taken time off due to mental illness in a 12-month period, some of us still feel (or are made to feel) uncomfortable talking to our employer about taking a mental health day.

This can lead to a bunch of really not fun things. Burnout, job dissatisfaction, poor sleep, you name it. So, we asked an expert to explain why looking after your mental health regarding work is important, and the signs you might need to take a mental health day. Like, tomorrow.


WATCH: Here's a guide to spotting and combatting workplace burnout. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia.

But first, why don't we take mental health days when we need them?

Dr Michela Sorensen is a Sydney-based GP with a focus on mental health. According to her, one of the biggest barriers to people taking mental health days is perceived stigma.

"It might be a fear of being judged by others, such as colleagues or bosses, but arguably an even bigger issue is the judgement and stigma people inflict upon themselves," Dr Sorensen told Mamamia.  

"In general, we're usually very open and willing to support loved ones who are struggling with their mental health, but still struggle with accepting mental illness in ourselves, and see it as a sign of 'not coping'. I often ask patients, do you see people who are struggling with their blood pressure as a failure? No. How is a physical illness any different from a mental one? It isn't."

Then, there's the worry of not wanting to waste your sick leave in case you get physically sick. But as Dr Sorensen argues, "the mind deserves the time to rest and recuperate just as much as the physical body does." 

What are the benefits of taking a mental health day off work? 

There are a lot of benefits to taking a mental health day when you need one. Not just for you, but for your employer. 


Short term, it gives you the time and space to step back and breath. Getting a good night's sleep (presuming you don't have small kids), and doing things to relax like going for a walk or watching TV helps, too. This only really works if you don't keep checking your emails, though.

Dr Sorensen added, "Longer term, taking mental health days when you need can improve your focus and productivity. Not to mention, it can prevent significant deterioration of your overall mental and physical health."

Signs you need a mental health day off work.

Some of the most common signs you could use a mental health day are those of burnout.

These include:

  • Fatigue - never waking up refreshed, even after a good night's sleep.
  • Poor concentration and a consistent inability to maintain focus.
  • Feeling teary and overwhelmed on more than one occasion.

Then there are the physical symptoms that come with depleted mental energy or mental illness. These may include:

  • Headaches.
  • Chronic neck or back pain.
  • Stomach upsets. 
  • Nausea.

LISTEN: How to know if you’re suffering from burnout. Post continues below.

Do I just need a mental health day, or is it something more serious?

Mental health days aren't magic pills. If you're struggling with your mental health, taking one day off work might provide short term relief, but it won't help with suffering long term.

"Far too often, people try to suppress how they're feeling and 'push through', meaning they don't address their mental health until they've been suffering for some time."

If you are experiencing regular physical burnout symptoms and dealing with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, seeing your GP is the first step.

"I strongly recommend not waiting until you get to this point before you see a medical professional. This is where it is so important to have a good relationship with a medical professional you trust, as they might pick up on some subtle signs you may have otherwise brushed off."


Seeing your GP to address your mental health doesn't automatically mean you'll be diagnosed on the spot or forced onto medication. (Note: For some, medication is an essential part of their managing their mental illness and there's nothing shameful about it.)

Often, it's a first step to stop and take stock of how you've been feeling. It may involve developing a plan to ensure you can support your mental health so illness doesn't ensure, or getting a mental health care plan so you can talk to a psychologist bulk-billed.

Whether you feel you need a mental health day, or further support with your mental health, Dr Sorensen's most important advice is to acknowledge what you're feeling and talk to someone about it.

"It could be an employer or colleague, family member, friend or medical professional, but there are people out there who care and want to support you, but they can't unless they know what is going on." 

" And please, give yourself a break."

If you think you may be struggling with your mental health, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty.