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How Different Countries Around the World Approach Mental Health Sick Days

Picture of Alice Johnston
Social Content Producer
Updated: 10 October 2017
Today is world mental health day. Every year the World Health Organisation asks what needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide. The theme for 2017 is mental health in the workplace. In light of this, Culture Trip decided to examine how attitudes to taking ‘mental health days’ differ around the world.

Mental health is just as important as physical health. Being mentally unhealthy can seriously affect a person’s ability to work, and it’s crucial that people worldwide feel as comfortable taking a day off work to recover from mental illness as they do to recover from flu.

America

One of the few developed industrial nations that does not have laws in place to guarantee paid sick leave, America isn’t very supportive of workers who want to take sick leave for their mental health. For millions of workers, the rule is simple: if you don’t show up for work you lose a day’s pay.

While America has established mental health services and access to medication and therapy, a 2016 survey of 1, 501 people by the American Psychological Association uncovered that less than half thought their company supported employee well-being. One in three said they felt chronically stressed on the job.

America is one of the few developed industrial nations that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave by law
America is one of the few developed industrial nations that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave by law | © Al x / Unsplash

New Zealand

The attitude towards mental health and recovery in this country is progressive, and the generally strong policies in place for employee sick leave mean workers are welcome to take sick days for mental health problems.

Philippines

Not only is there no statutory requirement for sick leave in the Philippines, a mental health act detailing a national mental health policy for the country only came into effect in May 2017. These two factors mean that taking time off work for mental health-related problems is not well-supported.

Russia

While Russia does have a standard sick leave policy, the negative attitude towards mental health in the country means that people might not feel comfortable taking time off work for that reason.

A report from the Psychiatric Times in 2014 said that the mentally ill are conceived of as ‘a burden on society or as a hidden danger’, and that their rights are ‘openly ignored’.

The Netherlands has a progressive attitude towards mental health care
The Netherlands has a progressive attitude towards mental health care | © Jace Grandinetti / Unsplash

South Africa

In 2014, the Sunday Times reported that a third of South Africans would experience a mental health problem in their lifetime, but that 75% won’t get any kind of help. Heartbreakingly, mentally ill people are also often rejected by their families.

Despite having a robust sick leave policy, the attitude and provision towards mental health is lacking, meaning that many don’t get the help they need and don’t take the time off work to get better.

The Netherlands

The comprehensive Dutch sick leave policy and advanced attitudes towards mental health recovery means that people experiencing mental health problems there are able to take days off work to work on their recovery. The amount of sick leave and the pay received for it mean that workers who are unwell can be absent for up to two years and be paid 70% of their salary.

Japan

Mandated sick leave isn’t really a thing in Japan. Many workers use their annual leave to cover the days when they’re ill, meaning that it’s unlikely that people will call in sick with anxiety if their won’t do it for food poisoning.

Overwork is such a problem that there’s a special word for it – ‘karoshi’, which translates to ‘death by overwork’. A report issued by the Japanese government last month found that employees at 23% of companies in Japan were working 80 hours or more overtime each month last year, which the report states is the threshold at which the risk of dying from physical or psychological causes is significant.

The gap between rich and poor in Brazil means that mental health care can be lacking
The gap between rich and poor in Brazil means that mental health care can be lacking | © Jace Grandinetti / Unsplash

Brazil

With a generous holiday and sick leave package, Brazil provides workers with the chance to take time to recharge and recover from illness. However, inequality in the country translates into unequal mental health provisions – having more psychiatrists available in the wealthier parts of the country, for example.

UK

There is no legal difference between taking a sick day for mental health or for a broken leg, but attitudes are still skewed towards taking physical health more seriously. According to the Office for National Statistics Labour Force Survey statistics, the UK population took 137 million sick days in 2016. Of these, 15.8 million days were for a stated mental health issue, ranging from stress and anxiety to more serious conditions such as schizophrenia. 34 million days were given over to minor illnesses such as coughs and colds.

Mental Health First Aid England released a Mental Health at Work Report, which reveals that although there is increased awareness of mental health issues in the workplace, awareness is not always translating into action.

The report states that as many as 1.2 million of the UK’s working population has faced demotion, disciplinary or dismissal after disclosing a mental health issue at work – that’s 15% of the working population, and a 6% rise from last year. Only 11% of people disclosed a mental health issue to their line manager, and a third of workplaces have no services at all to support mental health (although 49% of line managers would welcome training on the issue).

Only a third of 18 to 29-year-olds are comfortable talking to their managers about mental health problems, compared with almost half of those in their 40s and 50s
Only a third of 18 to 29-year-olds are comfortable talking to their managers about mental health problems, compared with almost half of those in their 40s and 50s | © Larisa Mamonova/ Unsplash

Young people are more likely to have been formally diagnosed with a mental health condition (37% versus 29% of employees in their 50s) – but are less likely than older people to disclose these concerns to their bosses. Only a third of 18 to 29-year olds are comfortable talking with their managers about mental health compared to almost half of people in their 40s and 50s.

Commenting on the report 2017, CEO of Mental Health First Aid England Poppy Jaman says: ‘With World Mental Health Day on 10 October, the time to act is now. We will only see a culture change across our workplaces when employers value mental health as they do physical health, which is why we want to see every employer who trains staff in physical first aid to also offer Mental Health First Aid.

‘It’s clear there’s more work to do. Awareness, talking about mental health openly, is a great first step in creating a mentally healthy organisation. But to better support employees, transform practices and truly embed a whole organisational approach to workplace wellbeing, employers need to offer mental health training.’