It seems as though in this day and age, in a society so fast-paced and driven that even stopping to take a breath is frowned upon, the mental health day gets a bad rap. Stories of parents refusing to let their child stay home from school unless he’s bleeding or dying are common. “Man up and go to school,” society tells us, “or you’ll fall behind.” And who would want to fall behind, practically the worst possible crime a student could commit? To many, the whole premise of taking a mental health day seems immoral and deceitful, something they should feel guilty about. However, as someone with experience in the practice of taking mental health days, I assure you that this stigma is unwarranted and you needn’t worry about falling behind or harboring guilt; if you do it the right way, a mental health day can be a liberating and rejuvenating experience that serves to counteract the high-stress environment that constantly drains us as students.
What is a mental health day and why do we need one:
It’s no secret that the life of a student is hard. With homework, sports, extracurriculars, community service, and other endeavors all on a student’s plate, it can be extremely tough to catch a break every now and then, and on the other hand extremely easy to get caught up in all of these responsibilities and burn out. More and more students across America are beginning to suffer from depression, anxiety, and social phobia. Surveys conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that 25% of teens since the year 2000 have suffered anxiety at some point within the scope of their academic careers, a rather startling percentage when put into perspective. It is clear that today’s educational environment isn’t exactly conducive to preserving one’s mental health, and that taking a mental health day, or taking the day off for a reason other than physical illness, has a rightful place in one’s academic experience.
This is especially true at Jesuit, where all of the pressures of high school seem to be magnified due to the school’s focus on educating the whole individual through rigorous academics, service requirements, and other time-consuming commitments like clubs and athletics. Thomas Horton ‘16 weighed in on the necessity of mental health days for Jesuit students: “Yeah, I’ve felt the need to take a mental health day. Schoolwork just piles up sometimes, and with all the stress I’m not performing my best as a student. I think taking a mental health day would help me relieve some of that stress and allow me to come back to school with a fresh mind.”
Signs that you should take a mental health day:
- You consistently feel depressed, apathetic, overwhelmed, or hopeless
- You begin to develop unhealthy habits, like sleep loss, poor diet, weight gain, etc.
- Increased levels of anxiety are beginning to affect you
- You’ve lost your sense of balance or purpose in life
With the high level of school involvement that each of us maintain on a day-to-day basis, it’s easy to neglect or disregard our mental health in favor of more “important” issues. But nothing is more important than our mental health, and over time, if we don’t take the necessary steps to address it, we can make ourselves vulnerable to mental illness and lose our sanity. So if you begin to witness these things occurring in your life, recognize that you probably need to take a step back and give yourself a break so that these issues don’t compound to produce something much less manageable.
How to properly take a mental health day:
First of all, a mental health day should be something that is planned a couple of days in advance, not something that is rash and spontaneous. Deciding on a whim to take the day off when you’re tired and fed up and pissed off at the world could end up being more detrimental than beneficial. Instead, check your calendar and look for a day when things are supposed to be slow so that staying on schedule is manageable. Be responsible: don’t take a mental health day when you know you have a lot going or you know that you should show up. A mental health day isn’t just an excuse to miss that chemistry test that you didn’t study for. Furthermore, along the same lines, make sure you notify your teachers of your absence so you can stay ahead and collect any work that you’ll need to make up.
As for actually planning out what to do on your mental health day, here are a few suggestions:
- Sleep in. Chances are, one of the contributing factors of you taking your mental health day is a lack of sleep. Take advantage of the opportunity to get well-rested.
- Listen to music, glue yourself to the couch with a remote and a month’s worth of Netflix to watch, and do nothing. Use this time to do something that you enjoy and escape from your stressors.
- Run errands or tend to personal matters. Perhaps you would be best suited to use your mental health day to take care of some chores that you haven’t had the time to address. Clean your room, go shopping, get your license renewed. Doing these menial tasks on your mental health day will calm you down and hopefully prevent stressors from building upon each other in the future.
- Don’t do homework. Just don’t do it. Don’t even think about it. Thinking about the cause of your anguish just defeats the purpose of taking a mental health day in the first place. You need a day free of worry, withdrawn from the numerous tasks that beckon you in the world of reality. Some people choose to spend their mental health day doing hours and hours of studying in an attempt to catch up or lighten their load in the future, but at the end of the day is the state of their mental health any better? No. There are much better things to spend your time doing if you are seeking to let off some steam. If you’re that worried about falling behind in school, use the couple days before your planned day off to get ahead.
Even though it might seem contradictory, don’t spend your mental health day bored out of your mind. Being bored does absolutely nothing for your mental health, so be sure to at least have some sense of how you’re going to spend your day before that day comes.
How often should you take a mental health day:
After you take your first mental health day, you’ll find yourself wishing every day was a mental health day, but you can’t allow yourself to fall prey to that mindset. Frequently taking the day off is a very bad habit that will only add to your list of problems as you go on. Remember the point of a mental health day, and treat it as such. Don’t abuse it by letting it become an excuse to avoid your problems. One or two mental health days a semester should be more than enough for you to keep your mind and body refreshed.
Don’t feel guilty about missing school. There will be times when you will feel like you just simply can’t handle any of your responsibilities, and if you need to take a day off to get yourself and your mental health in order, that’s completely understandable. You will return to school more productive than you were before, which will make not only you happy but also others around you happy. The declining mental health of students across America is a serious issue; don’t let yourself become a part of it.