Mental health has been a hot topic of discussion in America since news broke of Robin Williams’ tragic suicide. Sadly, one of the main topics of conversation has been the stigma that so often accompanies mental disorders. Much has been done to counter the public’s view of neurological diseases and ailments but much more needs to be done. Oddly, one step that could help would be to require that even so-called “mental health days” require a note from a doctor rather than a simple call in to work.
Unfortunately, as long as the public sees mental issues differently than strictly medical concerns, they will suffer from the lack of visible physical symptoms. The doctor’s note came into play when businesses feared employees would fake illness to take advantage of the system. Businesses must fear the abuse of mental illness protections even more since the symptoms are not visible to the untrained. If a panic attack looked and sounded like a cough or a sneeze it would likely be treated differently. If depression resembled a broken leg, more accommodations would be made for it. Since the invisibility of mental health concerns cannot be changed, it makes sense that the doctor’s note protection businesses sought initially should be re-established to bring the same level of scrutiny to a day off due to a hangover as time off for a legitimate bipolar diagnosis.
Some will argue that this simple change would put too much of a burden on the backs of medical professionals. Doctors barely have time to see patients for a few minutes at a time when they have an appointment and adding this responsibility would be disastrous to the quality of care. On the surface this argument seems sound, but in a world where emails and text messages can be sent from a cell phone on a moment’s notice it should be easy for the healthcare industry to establish a way for notes to be faxed to employers in the moments while a nurse is entering notes from a chart. If that is not enough to handle an influx of employees needing to miss work because of a 24 hour bug or a case of nausea as well, then those notes could be as easily written by the pharmacists that supply the over the counter medication used to treat those ailments.
Some may see this as ridiculous. The concept of a mental health day has come forth in the media, often jokingly, as a way of using sick leave as an unplanned vacation day. Movie and television characters joke about taking needed time off without notice using this term and audiences laugh because nearly everyone has done this at some point in their career. There is one simple fact to keep in mind about this trend, however. If people are joking about something, that is a fairly good sign that it is not being taken seriously. If the public is to be expected to treat mental health concerns as legitimate medical concerns, the loss of an unplanned vacation day seems like a small price to pay for the amount of good it could do. If all vacation days had to be scheduled in advance and all sick days required a note from a doctor, mental health concerns could finally rise to the level of respect they should have already attained.
Opinion by David Morris