Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Firms See More Usage of `Mental Health Day'

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Firms See More Usage of `Mental Health Day'

Article excerpt

LOS ANGELES _ Frank, a 34-year-old lawyer, felt stressed after working nights and weekends to prepare for a big case. So when the trial was over, he skipped work for a day by pretending he was sick.

"I would just call in and tell my boss I'm not feeling well and not coming in," said Frank. "I felt overtaxed and entitled to give myself a break."

Paul, 41, said he sometimes fakes illness and stays home from his bookkeeping job "when there are so many things going on at work and at home that I feel inundated and need a day to get on top of things and feel in control."

Frank and Paul _ who spoke on condition their real names weren't used _ aren't alone in skipping work for a so-called "mental health day."

One-fifth of Americans call in sick at least once a year when they simply need time to relax, according to a 1991 survey of 1,010 people conducted for Hilton Hotels Corp., which wanted to study how people spend leisure time.

Taking a day off to relieve on-the-job stress "gives people a feeling of control over their lives," said Charles T. Hill, a psychology professor at California's Whittier College.

People who fail to relieve stress are likely to be less efficient at work and possibly become physically ill, forcing them to take time off anyway, Hill said.

But if too many people skip work too often, "it eventually could become a serious problem in keeping the workforce on duty and keeping the wheels rolling," said Dr. Roderic Gorney, a psychiatry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

It also could damage an employee's reputation and future employability.

Moreover, the need to lie may trigger guilt and anxiety that "can lead to anything from further stress symptoms to accidents, difficulty with sleep, disturbed relationships," Gorney said.

Gorney and Paul Ekman, a psychology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, said it would be better if employers would formally recognize the need for workers to take a mental health day, perhaps two or three times a year. …

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