Oregon offers “mental health days” for students, employees need these too

Susanna Kahr

Oregon recently announced a new bill that allows students to take “mental health days” the same as they would sick days. This new bill is aimed at changing the stigma around mental health, and we think that our employers should be taking note of this too, here’s why. 

“Mental health days” are important for us and our workplaces. We all have days when things get too much and mental health days mean that we can take those much-needed breaks to help us recover from stress, depression or anxiety. Employers that allow their employees to take “mental health days” to manage mental health encourage employees to be healthier and happier and help them to a better job, which means it’s a win-win for everyone. 

A big step forward for mental health

A group of students in Oregon recently managed to get a bill through that allows all students in the state to take “mental health days” as they do sick days. The students pushed this bill as a way to change the stigma around mental health in the state of Oregon which has some of the United States’ highest levels of suicides. The law went into effect on July 1, and gives students 5 mental health days in a 3-month period. 

Mental health experts say it is one of the first state laws that explicitly tells schools to treat mental health and physical health equally and is therefore a big step forward for mental health in the US. In 2018, Utah also changed the definition of a student’s “valid excuse” to miss a day to include an illness “which may be mental or physical.” Now employers need to do the same. 

“The company has a wonderful wellness program and works hard to promote health and prevention of chronic diseases.” – anonymous employer review at Cone Health

Why employers should recognize “mental health days” too

Unfortunately, many of us are reluctant to take “mental health days” off work. This is because many of our employers have restrictive sick day policies that mean we feel we have to hide our mental-health issues.

As it stands right now, the Americans with Disabilities Act protects employees with diagnosed mental illnesses from discrimination and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act can provide job-protected leave without pay. However, employers are not formally instructed to recognize the need to “mental health days” the way that schools in Oregon are.

“The company encourages mental health awareness and work-life balance to full-time employees.” – anonymous employer review at Live Nation Entertainment

But with 18.9% of Americans now reporting having a mental illness and with burnout now being classified as a workplace phenomenon, employers need to do more to address mental health in the workplace. Whether that is through managing workplace stress or through offering an allowance of mental health days. 

Equally, we all have to put pressure on our employers to allow us time off to manage our mental health and we can do that by asking for time off when we need it. Here are some ways to find out if you need to take a mental health day and how to ask for one.

 

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