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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Create a society where people can take sick days off

Rika Kayama (Mainichi)

I was taken aback by a message on SNS posted by a doctor who said they were studying in Germany. It read, "I stopped catching colds after coming to Germany. Infections don't spread here because people immediately rest when they become ill, so there's no one sick at the workplace or on the train."

The message made me realize that infections wouldn't spread in schools or workplaces if people who were sick stayed at home. As a result, it will reduce the number of patients suffering from illnesses in society as a whole. It reminded me of the phrase "slow and steady wins the race," although the meaning is slightly different.

Meanwhile, for those living in Japan, we get a feeling that it's natural to become ill or to catch the flu during this season with the media reporting on a "record number of flu patients" and the like. Many of those with persistent symptoms of coughs and runny noses wear masks and show up for work thinking, "I can't miss work with just a mild cold."

How can we create a society that allows people who do not feel well to rest?

One of the approaches I came up with was for celebrities and comedians that appear in live TV shows to increase their number of absent days due to poor health. People who appear on TV rarely take sick days off, even with serious conditions. I once saw a celebrity sink back in their chair during a commercial break in an information program that I attended. "I'm exhausted because of a fever," said the celebrity, but they began speaking energetically when the commercials ended.

Though I sense that the celebrity had amazing professionalism, I also believe one of the roles of being a professional is to take the initiative in showing that "people need to rest when they don't feel well." I assume viewers may be surprised at first and think, "A celebrity that energetic must be suffering from a serious illness to be absent." But everyone will eventually get used to it and think, "I see. Anyone can rest when they're exhausted from a cold, even those appearing on TV. Well then, I might also take a sick day off without pushing myself too far."

Although having said that, I still haven't missed work this season. I held classes and examined patients at my clinic after applying pain relief patches on days I had back pain and used candies as well as masks when I had a sore throat. It's true that I can't miss work because I don't have a substitute, but it's possible that I could spread a cold to someone else through my actions.

I might consider suggesting next winter, "Let's create a system in which people taking a sick day off can casually ask for someone to fill in their place." It may be easier to think you're missing work or school because you "don't want to spread the infection" instead of thinking that you're taking a rest just because you don't feel well.

(By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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