Mental health days are on the rise in the corporate world, but they're not a silver bullet for workplace stress

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Mental health days have become the norm in the corporate world, but as the pandemic takes its toll on essential workers, experts say there's still a long way to go in addressing burnout.
Nicole Scott has a better understanding than most of the importance of looking after your mental health. As a peer-support worker at a mental health organisation, she spends her days counselling people through their own struggles.

The emotional toll the job can take is why the organisation has a clear policy for mental health leave — employees are encouraged to take it whenever they feel like they need to, no questions asked.

But even with this explicit policy, the 26-year-old from Geelong says she still felt uncomfortable about asking for her first mental health day off work recently.

"I still felt a little bit nervous about it, because I know it's not very normalised yet in Australian culture," she says, "but I just knew that I was not going to be able to be fully present for the people I work with and the clients, so I was like 'I need to take it off'."

When she took the day off — and her workplace was fine with it — she described it as a "weight off her shoulders", but she says she probably wouldn't have broached the subject had her organisation not encouraged it.

That's why she says it's important for employers to normalise conversations about mental health and mental health days a part of the company culture.

"There's a lot of that self-stigma, like 'oh, I shouldn't be feeling this way', 'what are other people going to think?', or 'is this going to put my job at risk?," she says.

"Now I feel a lot more relaxed and I feel like in the future I won't feel as nervous taking another day off for my mental health."

A national conversation

A silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the widespread acknowledgement that mental health is something to be taken seriously

One in five Australians report experiencing high levels of psychological distress, according to an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey.

While workers have been taking days off for mental health for decades, often under the guise of something like a stomach bug or sore back, more…
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