Are mental health days sick days

The Road To Mental Wellness > Mental Health > Are mental health days sick days

Are mental health days sick days? Calling in with a physical ailment is understandable to most employers, but mental illness? Not so. Here’s what can be done.

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As a person who worked in a long-term care organization for eighteen years, the question “Are mental health days sick days?” was a perpetual question for us. Sure, we had banked sick time and we were all grateful for it but try telling your manager that you are “taking a mental health day.” You might as well have been calling in to tell them you’re going to the neighborhood barbecue. This, despite the fact that those I worked for were health professionals and should have had more compassion. After all, we were working with people with every mental illness you can think of.

“If you can’t get the support at the top, those who run a mental institution, you will have to lie about your illness.” Over my years there, I crafted this statement in response to when the subject arose. Sad really. You have to lie because your leadership sees your mental health as less than calling in for a migraine for example. I mean, it’s not like we were working for Amazon.

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Sadly, this tells us just how deep rooted the stigma surrounding mental illness is. If the healthcare field can’t be a champion for the mentally ill, what chance do we have? Well, I think we do have a chance. However, I’m not going to lie, it will be a drawn-out battle but with that said, we can change it. Here’s how:

Working with your Union

How? Well, if you have a union, all those who want sick days to include mental health days can approach the executive and formally request that they be included in the next contract negotiations. While this too may be met with stigma and excuses, it is nonetheless worth your persistence.


It is best to start an email campaign. If 25 to 50 people write the union once or twice a month, it will have an effect. Plus, you have the “paper trail” you will need to show your seriousness about you and your co-workers mental well-being. Similarly, CC your managers in the emails to show everyone involved that you mean business.

What if you don’t have a Union?

In the case where there is no Union, but you have so many days banked for sick time, (many places have 3 to 5 days allowed), write your bosses in a similar fashion as mentioned above. You could for example, formally request that within those days allotted, you want mental health days considered as sick days. If no sick days are available to you, you can still organize and work at it in the same way.

Don’t piss off the boss


Personally, I don’t recommend going in with guns a blazing and demanding more days be added – not at first. What’s important, at least as far as I am concerned, is that you get them conditioned to the idea. Our first goal is to minimize the stigma and go for additional days later. So, work on folding mental illness in with your sick time.

Contrary to modern day belief, yelling, demanding, and being forceful is not the best tactic. Instead, try and get the majority of your co-workers to, again, write your boss once a month.


It’s not a bad Idea to send your boss/managers up to date information on mental health and how improving workplace harmony can help reduce sick time. We know for example that mental health downtime costs companies. So, speak their language – the language of money. Get the lowdown at the link below.

WHO and ILO want measures to put in place to tackle mental health issues at work

Work on government policy

You can, for instance, work a similar email campaign lobbying the government to pass legislation into law mandating mental health days. I recommend that you do it outside of work and with others outside of your company that are willing to help. I feel it’s important not to make your company feel intimidated, or otherwise threatened in any way. Why? because it’s obviously going to make it more difficult to achieve the desired outcome.

  • Get as many people as possible to write your local and federal governments. Half of you work on the feds and the other half on the state/provincial governments. This will give the group as a whole better focus.
  • Set up a board of those willing and best able to sit down with elected officials. Come armed with data, a professional attitude, and solutions/options.
  • Be friendly, listen, and leave defensiveness at home. Save the yelling for when or if you must protest.
  • Politicians will talk over you, so set the tone of the meeting by saying, “We want to present to you our concerns and our findings, after which you can have your time to respond.”
  • Finally, don’t walk away thinking that your work is done. Far from it – now it’s time for the monthly follow up emails. Stay on the radar and hold them accountable.


Use media and social media – the right way – write, blog, vlog

Write, blog, vlog. But be nice. Sneak your message into an article or video on depression for example. You can write about the facts of depression and add in a section that says Are mental health days sick days? invite discussion on the topic and offer an opportunity for people to join the cause. Remember, there are more options out there. Being forceful, rude, or feeling like you can engage in “activist-like behaviours” will only come back to bite you.

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Work hard to get people to share your content on social media. It may gain traction. And since you have already tactfully approached both your workplace and governments, your efforts stand a better chance of getting noticed by them. Essentially, you’re creating a pathway to change.

So, what do you think? Are mental health days sick days? And if so, what are you going to do to ensure they come into being?

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Jonathan Arenburg

Jonathan Reginald-Nixon Arenburg (Born January 14, 1976) is a Canadian mental health blogger, speaker, and published author. Retired from the fire service and long-term care fields, he has written and self-published an autobiographical account of his life-long battle with anxiety, depression and more recently, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Titled, The Road To Mental Wellness, he wrote it for what he calls “therapeutic release.” He published it in hopes it would help others going through similar mental health conditions. The sales of The Road To Mental Wellness have been steady selling over 300 copies since its release on October 10, 2021(World Mental Health Day). Arenburg has also been involved in a collaborative publication Called Lemonade Stand Volume III, a book featuring 20 authors who bravely tell their stories of PTSD. All authors where from the military and or emergency services. Published by Joshua Rivedal and Kathleen Myers for the i’Mpossible project, a mental health advocacy organization. Jonathan has also appeared on several mental health podcasts including The Depression Files, A New Dawn, and The Above Ground Podcast Arenburg has also consulted with the Government of Nova Scotia and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, the Honorable Brian Comer and Candidates for the New Democratic Party of Canada, on improving the mental health care system in Canada. Additionally, Jonathan was recognized in The Nova Scotia Legislature by the Honorable, Chris Palmer, Kings-North MLA, for his Book, The Road To Mental Wellness, his fight to make the mental health care system better. In addition, Chis acknowledged the support he gives to others.

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