Taking Time Off to Deal with Mental Health is Courageous, Not a Copout

Thankfully, we are more open about mental health issues than ever before.

Fuelled by powerful campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk and the “coming out” of celebrities with their mental health struggles (everyone from Prince William to Kristen Bell have been vocal with their struggles as of late), the long-held stigma surrounding mental health is slowly eroding.

And it’s about time: a recent poll found that 40 per cent of Canadians report that their mental health has disrupted their lives in the past year, with one in five reporting to have missed work or school. Sometimes, taking a mental health break is more than something that sounds nice in theory – it is absolutely essential.

Recently, NHS England found that one in three doctors’ notes were for psychiatric problems. We have a feeling the stats are probably quite similar in Canada. Across the pond, there was a 14 per cent rise in notes relating to anxiety and stress between 2015-16 and 2016-17. The data analyzed more than 12 million doctors notes issued over almost two and a half years from GP practices across England. The report also revealed that notes for psychological problems were issued for longer periods of time than other types of illness. In fact, more than one in five notes were issued for longer than 12 weeks.

England has pledged to put mental health front and centre, with a focus on getting these people better and returning them to the workforce. While that is undoubtedly important, it’s also important for those suffering to be able to recognize the need for time off in the first place. In an era of perpetual stimulation, never ending global crisis, social media pressure and stiff competition in the work place, sometimes, you need to take a step back to deal with it all.

Recently, it was announced that star American figure skater Gracie Gold is taking time off from the ice just five months before the Winter Olympics “to seek professional help.” While she doesn’t explicitly state what type of treatment she will receive, it’s safe to assume it is mental health-related.

Image: Chicago Tribune

“My passion for skating and training remains strong. However, after recent struggles on and off the ice, I realize I need to seek some professional help and will be taking some time off while preparing for my Grand Prix assignments. This time will help me become a stronger person, which I believe will be reflected in my skating performances as well,” the 22-year-old said in a statement to USA Today.

Good for her; despite it being such a crucial moment for her career, she recognized the importance of putting her mental health first. It’s a move that takes a lot of courage, especially for someone in the spotlight.

Back in June, 22-year-old Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Roberto Osuna made headlines when he too decided to take time off the job by sitting out of a game to address mental health issues; the athlete suffers from anxiety.

Image: Yahoo Sports

“This has nothing to do with me being on the field, I feel great out there,” said Osuna to reporters through a translator. “It’s just when I’m out of baseball, when I’m not on the field, that I feel weird and a little bit lost.” He candidly revealed that he wasn’t sure whether he would be able to pitch an upcoming game (he ended up doing so). “I wish I knew how to get out of here and how to get out of this,” said Osuna. “We’re working on it, we’re trying to find ways to see what can make me feel better but to be honest, I just don’t know.”

Of course, mental health struggles are not reserved for high-performance athletes, but these two definitely set a strong example for others to address their own struggles.

If you have a flu or virus, you seek professional help and take time to recover; mental health issues should be dealt with the same way (something sportscaster Michael Landsberg advocates in his #SickNotWeak campaign) – and this should never be seen as weak. It’s actually the opposite.