Are mental health days helpful? An argument is raging that they're not.

At a time when people are navigating the complexities of daily life under increasingly difficult circumstances, the concept of self-care almost feels like a buzzword in 2024. While inflation is rising, rental prices are soaring and the cost of living continues to increase, it makes sense that our mental wellbeing is often put on the back burner. 

After all, who has time to worry about being worried when they're so bloody... worried?

Enter, the unassuming hero bringing back some semblance of a balance in our lives: mental health days.

Watch: Children's mental health. Post continues after video. 

Video via Mamamia.

With more than 42 per cent of people aged 16-85 in Australia experiencing a mental disorder at some point in their life, mental health days are likely to become more common in various workplaces. But it's also children who are affected, with many parents now giving them a pass to skip school for a day when things are rough. 

In fact, in the US, eight states have passed legislation specifically allowing children to have days off school for mental health needs.

But while some argue that the act of taking a day off from work, school or other responsibilities is an essential key to maintaining overall wellness, others consider it a luxury. And then there are those who believe mental health days shouldn't exist at all.


Writer Anya Kamenetz recently argued that mental health days for teenagers might actually be "really bad" for them. 

"... As a journalist who follows education and youth mental health closely, and as a mom, I've discovered that while the occasional day off is probably fine, mental-health days can have a dark side," Kamenetz wrote for The Cut, adding that studies on school mental health days are not nearly comprehensive enough to prove that they are actually helping with depression or anxiety.

In fact, Kamenetz shared that she spoke to plenty of mental health advocates, teachers and parents who had mixed feelings on mental health days for kids.

"The problem, they say, is that in many common situations they see, missing school can be counterproductive for kids' mental health and become a slippery slope, worsening the problems these days are trying to address." And Laura Phillips, a senior neuropsychologist, told The Cut that allowing teens to remain home instead of going to classes only reinforced the idea that "school is scary".

Are mental health days good for you or detrimental?

Carly Dober, who is a psychologist and the Director at the Australian Association of Psychologists Incorporated, tells Mamamia that mental health days are incredibly important for both adults and children — whether they need a moment of mental rest from school, home, or responsibilities that can wait to be handled another day.

"They're meant to be a day for 'you', where you reduce commitments, give time to your stress levels, catch up on rest or movement and partake in activities that support your wellbeing," Dober says. "They're very, very important and it's important for anyone, of any age, to take a mental health day."


But like most things, Dober adds that taking mental health days can be a negative practice if it's taken advantage of.

"They mightn't be helpful if you spend the day engaging in activities that won't be helpful to your mental health levels, like engaging in substance use, or spending the time with those in your life who increase your stress levels," the psychologist shared. 

"They can even decrease your ability to recharge if you are spending all your day on social media, or spending your time engaging in unhelpful behaviours like worrying about your stress levels without doing anything else about it."

The reason for needing a 'brain break' doesn't really matter; only that you seek the right help if a mental health day doesn't help you recharge, or if you don't feel any better after taking one.

"You might need one if you've been stressed, feeling overwhelmed or if you have reached the point of burnout," Dober says. "While we do not always need a mental health day if things like this are occurring, sometimes that vital time out can support us to feel like things are more manageable — even if the situation hasn't changed."

When can we take a mental health day?

There's no hard or fast rule when it comes to looking after yourself, says Dober, as everyone's needs are different. But if you find you're not feeling like yourself and that your brain and body could use a day off, it might be time to call it in at work or school. If you're a parent, it also might be best to monitor your child for behaviour that seems out of the ordinary.


"Some people might need one or two a year, and some people might need three in one month because it's a difficult month for them," Dober says. "Of course, it's also okay to take just a day or two off for your mental health."

However, the expert recommends treating mental health days like we do days off for our physical health.

"If you'd rest and take time off for a sprained ankle or elbow, consider doing this for your mental health," Dober says.

When do mental health days become negative?

Dober says mental health days become an ineffective tool when we take advantage of them or to avoid responsibilities that need to be handled sooner rather than later. "If we get into the habit of taking days off for every little thing that goes wrong in our lives and use this as an excuse to avoid life and the discomforts that can come from life then this might be when taking a mental health day becomes unhelpful or keeps you stuck," she explains.

"People may also use mental health days as a way to avoid difficult conversations with their workplaces or people around them, and this might not always be helpful. The idea is to recharge, to gain perspective and to make changes if any need to be made. 

"We also don't want mental health days to be the only coping mechanism that people are utilising, but more so an addition to their toolbox."

Feature Image: Getty.

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