The importance of mental health days

Earlier this month, Madalyn Parker, a Michigan-based web developer shared an email interaction with her boss in which he supported her need to take off work to focus on her mental health. While mental health issues are not new, only recently has acceptance of these issues grown. It's because of the stigma that still surrounds mental illness that this tweet was so widely discussed.

Adults, like Parker, may use their sick days to focus on mental health. However, young people aren't generally able or encouraged do so, even when they need a day off.

Childhood and adolescence are more challenging than adults may acknowledge. In addition to navigating everyday growing pains, young people are juggling friendships, schoolwork and extracurricular activities. It seems that today's youth have more to manage than kids did in years past and face even more pressure to succeed.

Related: Mental health facts by country

11 PHOTOS
Countries with the greatest burden of disease for mental and behavioral disorders: WHO
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Countries with the greatest burden of disease for mental and behavioral disorders: WHO

10. Germany

City center of Munich, Germany

(Photo via Getty)

9. Nigeria

As seen from a plane, the aerial view of Lagos, Nigeria looks like a patchwork quilt of colored roofs, sand, grass and streets.

(Photo via Getty)

8. Bangladesh

The sun is setting over the smoggy city Dhaka

(Photo via Getty)

7. Pakistan

Lahore is the capital of the Pakistani province of Punjab and the second largest city in Pakistan after Karachi with a population of some 7 million people.

(Photo via Getty)

6. Indonesia

Panorama of Jakarta Skyline with blue sky and no traffic. BNI46 Building from left to right

(Photo via Getty)

5. Brazil

A view from Santa Teresa in the hills of Rio de Janeiro as The iconic Cristo Redentor, Christ the Redeemer statue appears out of the clouds while lit up at night time atop the mountain Corcovado. In the foreground is the Favela Morro da Coroa. 

(Photo via Getty)

4. Russia

Morning over the Moscow Kremlin in the sun

(Photo via Getty)

3. United States of America

Crowd of Times Square in a rainy night, New York, USA

(Photo via Getty)

2. India

Local indian people shoping at street market, Mumbai, India.

(Photo via Getty)

1. China

Crowd of people along The Bund in Shanghai

(Photo via Getty) 

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[See: 10 Concerns Parents Have About Their Kids' Health.]

Many children and teens struggle with mental health conditions. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 5 kids ages 13 to 18 have a mental health disorder. Often, mental health issues are minimized and young people are essentially told to "get over it" or that their struggles are just a part of life, and they're left to deal with them on their own.

Opening a discussion about mental health early on teaches young people that it's OK to feel overwhelmed and ask for help, to take care of yourself and to say that you aren't feeling your best emotionally. Addressing mental health worries means better school performance and less physical illness. Taking a mental health day can help improve focus, performance and overall mental strength. Having more candid conversations about mental health issues will also help reduce stigma and increase acceptance.

Here are some signs parents should heed that children might need to take a mental health day:

  • They are physically present but not engaged.
  • They are more emotional than usual, easy to anger or tearful.
  • They get frustrated more easily than usual.
  • They appear depressed or are isolating themselves.
  • They start avoiding school and schoolwork.
  • They aren't interested in being social or doing anything they love.
  • They are overwhelmed and need that day to focus on a project or studying for a test. Be mindful that this isn't more than a day or two. More than that may be indicative of a bigger problem. If you have concerns that a child may be dealing with a mental health condition, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, make sure they see a mental health professional.

Related: Famous faces who have battled depression

14 PHOTOS
Notable people who have battled/are battling depression
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Notable people who have battled/are battling depression
Actress Kristen Bell arrives at the People's Choice Awards 2017 in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 18, 2017. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Musician Lady Gaga performs during the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS
Actor Dwayne Johnson poses at the world premiere of Walt Disney Animation Studios' "Moana" as a part of AFI Fest in Hollywood, California, U.S., November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Presenter Sarah Silverman arrives at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17: Cara Delevingne attends H&M and Cara Delevingne to celebrate the opening of a new location at Westfield World Trade Center at H&M on November 17, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for H&M)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 28: John Hamm attends the 2016 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 28, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
Owen Wilson poses for photographers at the screening of Zoolander 2 at a cinema in central London, February 4, 2016. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Demi Lovato performs at the Global Citizen Festival at Central Park in Manhattan, New York, U.S., September 24, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Wayne Brady, the latest actor to perform in the new play 'White Rabbit Red Rabbit,' performs at The Westside Theatre on April 4, 2016 in New York City. Each week 'White Rabbit Red Rabbit' has a unique new guest star. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/Bruce Glikas/Getty Images)
Actress Kerry Washington arrives at the 23rd Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Musician Sheryl Crow arrives at the Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California February 28, 2016. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
Author J.K. Rowling attends the premiere of "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05: Trevor Noah attends the Paramount Pictures with The Cinema Society & Svedka Host An After Party For 'Office Christmas Party' at Mr. Purple at the Hotel Indigo LES on December 5, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
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[Read: Helping Kids Cope With Anxiety.]

A mental health day needs to be about re-energizing and focusing on relaxing and regrouping. Whatever that looks like to your child should be encouraged, within reason. If your child needs to focus on that project and feels that will help her manage anxiety, let her. If he needs to sleep on and off all day, that's fine. Maybe your child wants to spend the day with you, just connecting and being around you; encourage that if you can.

The reality is, it's not just about recharging on a single mental health day. It's about developing healthy stress management skills every day. The more positive experiences your child has, the less likely he or she will be to become overwhelmed. Here are some other ways parents can help kids develop these skills and be more resilient:

  • Encourage kids to do things they love outside of school. Finding opportunities to do things they enjoy and be with friends and family will boost their spirits and equip them to better manage when they face challenges.
  • Teach them how to take care of their physical health. Parents should stress the importance of getting regular exercise, and do so themselves to lead by example. Also, work as a family to eat healthy. Food can have a negative impact on your mood, so try to incorporate positive choices. When kids don't feel well physically that will impact how they feel mentally.
  • Talk about mental health. Encourage kids to talk about their concerns. Validate that feeling anxious and sad is a typical part of life. Be available to them when they need to talk about how they are feeling.
  • Set limits so your child isn't overextended. Kids don't know how to do this themselves. If you notice that your child is doing too much, talk about how to cut back and find downtime.
  • Take time off as a family. It needn't be a huge amount of time. For example, you might make sure the house is quiet for a few hours and focus on self-care.

Related: Illnesses that seem like anxiety

26 PHOTOS
Underlying illnesses that can seem like anxiety
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Underlying illnesses that can seem like anxiety
Cardiac Issues

Angina

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Cardiac Issues

Arrhythmias

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Cardiac Issues

Cardiac tamponade

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Cardiac Issues

Congestive heart failure (left-sided)

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Cardiac Issues

Myocardial infraction

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Cardiac Issues

Valvular disease

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Adrenal dysfunction

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Carcinoid syndrome

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Cushing disease

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Diabetes mellitus

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine conditions

Parathyroid disease (hyperparathyroidism, pseudo-hyperparathyroidism)

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Male medicine doctor hand holding silver pen writing

Pancreatic tumors

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Pheochromocytoma

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Pituitary disease

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Endocrine Conditions

Thyroid disease 

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

GI Conditions

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

GI Conditions

Irritable bowel syndrome

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

GI Conditions

Peptic ulcer disease

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Inflammatory Conditions

Polyarteritis nodosa

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Inflammatory Conditions

Rheumatoid arthritis

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Inflammatory Conditions

Systemic lupus erythematosus

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Inflammatory Conditions

Temporal arteritis

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Metabolic Conditions

Hyperkalemia
Hyperthermia
Hypoglycemia
Hypoxia
Porphyria
Substance ingestion/overdose

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Neurological Conditons

Akathisia
Cerebral trauma and/or post-concussive syndrome 
Cerebrovascular disease
Cerebral syphilis
Encephalopathy 
Huntington disease
Mass lesions
Migraines
Multiple scelorosis

Seizure disorders
Subarachnoid hemorrhage
Vertigo

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

Respiratory Conditions

Asthma
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Pneumothorax
Pulmonary edema
Pulmonary embolism
Sleep apnea (obstructive/nonobstructive)

Getty

Source: Psychiatric Times

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It's easy to think that by allowing your child a mental health day you are treating them as fragile or coddling them. The truth is, we all need mental health days. When we are struggling to manage the day-to-day ins and outs of life, we just need to hit the pause button sometimes.

[See: 8 Things You Didn't Know About Counseling.]

If we can shift our way of thinking toward promoting self-care, we teach our young people that it's OK to stop and take a breath, and that taking care of themselves is vital. This lesson is one that can only serve them well throughout their lives.

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