Principals, It’s Time To Embrace Mental Health Days

Ultimately it’s the students who will benefit.

One of your teachers calls out and you’re left scrambling to find someone to cover her classes and keep the students on track. Later you see online that she’s not sick—at least not in the traditional sense—but she’s taking a mental health day to recharge before coming back into the classroom. What do you do?

One supervisor went viral when he responded to his employee’s request for a mental health day with praise. “I use [your request] as a reminder to use sick days for mental health—I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations,” Ben Congleton told his employee Madalyn Parker when she wrote him to say she was taking two days to “focus on [her] mental health.” Parker later posted the email exchange on Twitter, where it got 45,000 likes.

It’s time that all employers, especially principals, take Congleton’s approach, promoting self-care and mental wellness among their employees. Here are 5 reasons why you should be A-ok with your teachers taking a mental health day:

School is stressful

You’ve dedicated your life to working in a school, so you know that teachers are doing so much more than teaching reading and arithmetic. Teachers today stand in for parents, best friends, social workers, coaches and much more to their students. While that is wonderful, the mental and emotional toll can be draining. If one of your teachers needs a day off to rejuvenate it’s probably a sign that he’s giving the students his all.

The students will benefit

Kids of any age can tell when an adult is phoning it in or not giving their full effort. Just like parents need time away from their kids, teachers sometimes need time away from their students in order to do their best work. A mental health day is a minor inconvenience that will pay off big in the amount of energy and dedication that teachers have to give their students.

We need to prioritize mental health

Too often conditions that are invisible—like mental illness—are seen as less real than physical ailments. That perception and the stigma it creates contribute to delays in treatment for people who need it and can isolate people dealing with mental illness. It’s time that we take mental illness as seriously as any other sickness, and that includes allowing time off for proper mental care.

With 1 in 5 adults experiencing a mental illness in a given year, chances are we’ll all need a mental health day at some point. Creating a school environment that supports teachers’ mental, emotional and physical wellness equally will help everyone on staff feel valued and appreciated.

It makes financial sense.

Serious mental illness costs the U.S. economy $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year. Now, one or two sick days is not going to stave off serious mental illness, but used as part of a continuing care plan mental health days can contribute to an employee’s wellness and prevent longer absences in the future.

It builds trust.

Teachers are going to take mental health days whether or not they have full blessing from the principal’s office. The only difference is that if you don’t have a policy of accepting mental health days teachers will have to lie to you about why they were out sick. Although these lies may seem insignificant they can erode the trust between teachers and principal. It’s so much easier to just let people be honest about using their sick days.

Mental health is part of holistic health, and healthy teachers are part of a health school. If they need a day to recharge, let them take it.

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Kelly Burch

Posted by Kelly Burch

Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist who covers mental health topics regularly. Find her on Facebook and Twitter @writingburch.