Taking a Mental Health Day from Work When You Have Bipolar

December 11, 2015 Natasha Tracy

Do you take mental health days from work? Most people don't. But should  you take mental health days from work if you have bipolar disorder?

When I was working full-time at a fancy software company, I would have never taken a mental health day from work because of bipolar. I would only take sick days when something catastrophic happened and I absolutely couldn’t work. But that didn’t mean that I couldn’t have used a mental health day, here and there. In fact, when you have bipolar disorder, I would suggest that mental health days from work are very important.

Is a Mental Health Day a Sick Day?

Everyone knows what a sick day is – it’s a day when you’re too sick to go into the office, fine. But few people would recognize a mental health day as similar. A physical sickness day allows your body to recharge and heal so you can go back to work and be successful. Well, a mental health sickness day is the same – it allows your brain to recharge and heal so you can go back to work and be successful.

Bipolar and Mental Health Days

Do you take mental health days from work? Most people don't. But should you take mental health days from work if you have bipolar disorder?And while I would wait for a mental health breakdown to occur before taking a sick day, this probably wasn’t the best way of handling the situation. It likely would have been better to be proactive. It would have been better to take a mental health day when things started on a downward turn instead of when they were in a pit because, as I always tell people, it’s much easier to handle a problem when it’s a dust mite rather than when it’s a raging tiger. And, of course, had I have done that, I might have actually taken fewer sick days because I would have been able to nip the downturn in the bud.

Why Don’t People Take Mental Health Days?

This is really simple. I didn’t take mental health days from work because I felt guilty. I felt like I wasn’t “really sick.” I felt like I could just power through it. I felt like taking the day would make people judge me and consider me weak for needing the day for any reason. Even though I have spent years talking about how bipolar is a physical illness, when it came down to it in my own life, I couldn’t live that reality even though I know it’s true.

You Need Mental Health Days, Especially with Bipolar

I’m a contractor now so my schedule is, at least somewhat, my own. Now, I pretty much never take days off, but I will take time for me. I will take hours to rest. I will take afternoons to recharge. I will take time when I need it. And this is like nipping mental illness in the bud because I really try not to wait until the world falls apart. I really do try to recharge regularly (like, every day) to try head bipolar off at the pass.

So I strongly encourage you to look at your sick days as days that allow you to give your mental health and your physical health a tune-up. Just because you don’t need antibiotics or aren’t using an entire box of tissues during the day, doesn’t mean that you don’t need to take care of your health. And if you do have bipolar, these days are even more important. Don’t allow your foolish guilt thoughts to override your logical thought. Know that you need to do what’s right for you on any given day and, in the long run, that’s going to make you a better employee and a happier person.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Image by Rochelle Hartman.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2015, December 11). Taking a Mental Health Day from Work When You Have Bipolar, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 22 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

May, 16 2024 at 11:14 am

Needed to read this today!

Bridget Mullins
October, 14 2017 at 12:38 pm

I am 38 and have lived, struggled, fought, won, lost living with bipolar disorder and the list could go on and on. As time goes on I am losing the ability to keep jobs. I physically get sick when it's time to go to work. I have a degree and I e had really good jobs but I am unable to function. Now I am trying to simplify my life but I continue to struggle with most things but work seems at the forfront at least today. Info options but to work. This illness is so hard as I suffer from depression as well as anxiety most times and as is shown in my writing I ramble a lot.

March, 14 2016 at 4:38 am

Share only with loved ones.

March, 14 2016 at 4:37 am

The bi-polar at times gets in the way of professional communication forcing employers to fire employees. No job and another bad reference coupled with no savings forces people to get back into the job market. New job same problems. The mental health day is necessary, but how can an employer possibly promote a new employee that utilizes sick days within the initial year of employment? An established employee should take mental health days, but all of 'us morons' with the inappropriate behavior causing poor work history should probably just hide in the bathroom and not share.

February, 22 2016 at 8:56 am

The waves of bipolar depression are crashing down again and sucking me out into a sea of despair. Gawd I hate this time of year! It's just so hard to get moving. On the weekend I hibernate in my room fast asleep like a fat ole grizzly bear and then during the weekday somehow I usually manage to muster the strength to crawl out of bed by 6 AM to get ready for work only to flop back into bed again afterwards by 6 PM. Falling asleep on the train and sometimes missing my stop to and from work. Today though I just couldn't do it. I woke up wishing I were dead and I couldn't stop crying and crying makes me even more tired if that's possible so I decided to give in to the depression and just called in sick. It was a lot easier to float on my back and ride the waves than to fight the current trying to swim to shore... Tomorrow I'm gonna need a boat load of coffee if I ever hope to make it to work but first I'll have to get changed and find my way to the store because I'm out of coffee, damn it!

February, 13 2016 at 3:28 am

If you are an employee in a company of over 50 employees and bipolar, we are entitled to intermittent Family Medical Leave (FMLA) as long as you meet the 1250 hour threshold. I strongly advise anyone who has an employer who is strict on time and attendance to utilize this! I do. It provides us with 12 weeks of "mental health days" or leave but I warn you, do not abuse it! One can be disciplined for taking every Friday and Minday off (establishing patterns).

February, 12 2016 at 4:51 am

Mental health day? I would work so hard and would break down and sometimes need a mental health 2 weeks. JObs didn't last too long. Being a daily cycler is real tough. Had to go on disability. Just a reminder , ther are many types of Bipolar disorder. Some have it oretty good in comparison to others.

December, 18 2015 at 3:06 pm

We get points for taking off early or missing days. 2 and 4 points respectively. 24 in a 6 month period. Not enough. *sigh*

December, 16 2015 at 4:31 am

I'm lucky that I am allowed at least 15 paid sick days a year. If they don't get used they are carried over to the next year. My employer has seen me through 3 breakdowns over a 15 year period. They don't know I have bipolar. I told them my breakdowns were due to stress. I didn't specify whether it was work related or family related. I'm a very hard worker when I am well so I'm very fortunate my employer has let me stick around for as long as they have.
As a preventative measure I sometimes take a "mental health day" off. Because mental illness is not given the same status as physical illness I usually make up a physical illness as my reason for being off rather than telling the truth. But I never feel guilty for taking care of myself in whatever form that may manifest itself

December, 15 2015 at 8:23 am

Guilty - that's the feeling that is the hardest. Also, because my employer does NOT know, I have Bipolar, it's really hard to prevaricate when they ask "are you feeling better" or especially if they ask you if you had the flu or something! I usually just say Migraine.

December, 13 2015 at 3:59 pm

I am lucky in that my boss is aware of my bipolar and has told me when I need to take a mental health day not to be afraid to say so. And he has lived up to his word. So I feel little pressure when it comes to taking these. In fact, I'm considering taking one tomorrow since I am starting to go downhill a bit tonight.

December, 11 2015 at 9:29 am

Wished I would have scheduled my time better in past 8 years. In past 8 years I have made several business mistakes that have cost me. I finally hit rock bottom. But the past 2 years haven't been fun. GAD, excessive worry, paranoia, etc. seems to hang around. I feel better now than last year, but anxiety and depression still show up. For 2016, I am only going to work 4.5 days. This will still be around 50 hours a week. But Friday around 2pm until Monday am is off time. Hope your breaks work for you.

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