Madalyn Parker recently made headlines when she sent an email to her colleagues saying she would be taking two days off to address her mental health. Her CEO responded by thanking her for reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.

She tweeted his positive response and the story went viral. Clearly, not all bosses encourage employees to take mental health days. And many employees wonder if a mental health day is the same as "playing hooky."

As a psychotherapist, I've had many conversations with people about mental health days. I've encountered people who feel too guilty to take a day off--they're convinced you need to be vomiting or have a fever to be 'sick.'

But I've also met people who take mental health days because they're sick of their jobs. And taking a day off doesn't necessarily help their mental health.

So before you take a mental health day, here are five questions you should ask yourself:

1. Why do I need a mental health day?

Before you declare you're going to take the day off, spend a few minutes thinking about your mental health. Try to identify the problems you're facing.

Are you experiencing serious emotional turmoil? Are you having trouble regulating your thoughts? Is your behavior unproductive? Naming the problem can be the first step in addressing it.

2. How will I spend my time?

Skipping work to binge watch Netflix won't necessarily make you feel better. In fact, it could make you worse.

If you're experiencing depression, for example, staying in bed all day may keep you stuck in a depressed state. Similarly, watching TV to escape your anxiety will only provide temporary fix. Your anxiety will return the minute you stop distracting yourself.

So think about how you'll spend your mental health day. What activities can you engage in to help you feel better? Whether you decide a long jog in the park is just what you need or you prefer to do yoga by the beach, think carefully about how you'll spend your time.

3. How will my day off help me?

Sometimes, people who feel overwhelmed think a day off will help them. But then, they feel even more overwhelmed because they missed a day of work and have even more things to catch up on. Think about how your mental health day will help you in the long-term.

Perhaps you simply need to recharge your batteries so you can feel energized for the months ahead. Or maybe, you'll use your time to get organized so you can be more productive. Try to identify what purpose your mental health day will serve.

4. How will I continue to care for myself?

Just like one workout won't make you physically healthy, one day of self-care won't make you mentally healthy. You need to build mental muscle on an ongoing basis.

Keep in mind that people aren't either mentally ill or mentally healthy. Mental health is on a continuum and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates only 17 percent of people experience optimal mental health. That means most people have plenty of room for improvement.

Should you make a doctor's appointment so you can ask for a referral to a therapist? Should you look for a support group? Do you need to make time for leisure activities a few days per week? Consider how you'll practice self-care so you can continue to build mental strength.

5. What should I tell my boss?

Even though it's in an employers' best interest to support employee mental health--the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers up to $105 billion annually--not all organizations support taking mental health days.

And while telling your boss you need to take care of your mental health may help break down the stigma, it may not be well-received.

You know your supervisor and your organization best. So consider how specific you want to be about why you need the time off, based on your needs and your company's policies.

Published on: Jul 13, 2017
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