Mental health day? Half of Americans still don’t believe it’s a valid excuse to call out of work

NEW YORK — Over half of employed Americans think mental health isn’t a valid reason to call out of work, according to a new study.

The survey polled 2,000 Americans with a job to analyze their opinions on mental health care in relation to work. Researchers find 57 percent agree there’s still a negative stigma around this topic. In fact, 62 percent said they believe their boss would judge them if they requested time off for mental health reasons; leading 54 percent to feel like this isn’t a good enough reason to call out.

Seven in 10 respondents add they’d rather take an entire day off work rather than a few hours – all to avoid telling their supervisor why they’re taking time off. Additionally, two in three people said they’re more likely to keep it vague and just tell their employer they have “an appointment” if they have to take time off for mental health care.

PTO Anxiety

Conducted by OnePoll on behalf of Learn to Live, researchers discovered employed Americans feel tremendous anxiety around using their own Paid Time Off. In fact, they completely avoid scheduling medical appointments four times a year because they don’t want to have to ask for time off.

Over half the poll (56%) also feel like their employer would think they’re unable to perform their job if they did request time off to undergo mental health care. Respondents with a salary were the most likely to agree with this statement at 62 percent in comparison to just 48 percent of hourly workers.

Despite the fears of criticism, nearly three in five respondents currently receive mental health care. Moreover, 55 percent of these respondents said they’ve been using more mental health services since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The results also show 57 percent of respondents said the pandemic is causing them to start caring about their mental health more; with salary workers agreeing most at 65 percent versus 50 percent of hourly workers.

Mental health care obstacles

This isn’t to say the journey to care was an easy one, as 48 percent said the biggest hurdle they encounter with mental health care is the high cost. Forty-five percent add they worry about being judged by loved ones for seeking out mental health care. Another 41 percent believe they don’t have enough time to seek care. One in three people even said a hurdle they’ve faced in seeking care is feeling afraid of what health care professionals would discuss.

With these barriers to proper care, it’s not surprising 64 percent of working Americans wish they had more mental health care options outside of traditional therapy — either in-person or virtually.

“It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, to learn that the stigma around mental health in and out of the workplace still exists,” says Learn to Live CEO Dale Cook in a statement. “However, with more access to digital and remote solutions, individuals looking for mental and behavioral health support can work it into their life very seamlessly.”

Making mental health part of the workplace culture

Perhaps because they struggled to find time for mental health care in the past, 58 percent believe employers should give employees paid time off specifically for mental health services. These respondents add companies should grant their employees three hours a month for this purpose.

Half of the respondents also said they wouldn’t even need PTO, but rather they’d feel more productive if they could utilize their lunch break for their mental health needs. With more respondents working from home – and even when it comes time to return to their normal schedules – 60 percent worry about their privacy when seeking mental health care virtually.

“We all know how hectic our lives can be,” Cook adds. “This is why it’s so important for mental health care and support to be there when you need it.”