In many workplaces throughout the First World, such as the United States and New Zealand, a “mental health day” is where an employee does not come to work and takes a sick day for reasons other than physical illness. Some people may consider a mental health day to be when someone simply does not feel like coming in to work, but the most accurate use of this term is related to true mental illness rather than a desire to skip work.
Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and other mental illnesses can cause severe impairment on one’s ability to function in the workplace or other roles. In addition, workplace and other stressors can exacerbate episodes of depression, mania, anxiety, or other illnesses. Left unchecked, mental health may continue to decline and can lead to serious morbidity. However, due to the lack of objective criteria and cultural perceptions that one can easily change mental health status, there may not be a perceived need for time off of work for mental health reasons.
Since most places have no law requiring employees to produce a medical certificate for only one day of absence, many people take a day off of work for such mental health reasons without usually stating that it is related to mental health. However, this is not universal. In 2010, the National government of New Zealand proposed a law that will allow employers to require a medical certificate for even one day of absence, however the employer must cover the cost of obtaining the certificate if the duration of absence is less than three consecutive days.
There is a movement to remove the stigma from mental health issues in the workplace, with a call to employers to pay more attention and to take a proactive approach in recognizing issues that may be mental health related. However, many workers do not feel comfortable sharing information about their mental health with those at work. This can be attributed to the stigma with which mental illness is likely to be regarded, as well as the perception that mental illness will interfere with work duties.
Studies show that one third of workers “admit to faking an illness to get the day off work because they feel they are not coping.”