If you suffer from a mental health problem, it can often be hard to know whether or not to tell your co-workers or employers what’s going on – do you tell them that you’re ill and risk stigmatisation or discrimination, or do you try to cope on your own? This concern can extend to days off, with many mentally ill workers lying about the reason for their days off for fear of not being taken seriously or – worse – being reprimanded for having a ‘mental health day’.
If any of this sounds familiar, you might just be cheered by this exchange between an employee and the CEO of the company she works for.
Madalyn Parker – who works as a web developer at Olark Live Chat – told her colleagues in an email that she was “taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health”.
“Hopefully I’ll be back next week feeling refreshed and back to 100%” she wrote.
And the response from Parker’s CEO was incredibly supportive.
“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this,” Ben Congleton wrote. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations.”
“You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Parker’s positive experience isn’t quite the norm, however: many responded to her tweet with more negative experiences.
I took a mental health afternoon at my last job and got passive aggressive documentation about the mental health coverage in our health plan— Janie Clayton (@RedQueenCoder) July 1, 2017
This is amazing. Not the response I got at all - most workplaces still have a lot of growing up to do when it comes to mental health :(— Evelyn Clegg (@Evie_tweeting) July 1, 2017
Any jobs going where you work? So rare. I left a mental health charity once bc HR wanted to know in advance when I'd have a panic attack— mollywallop (@mollywallop) July 6, 2017
And then 'so we don't have a policy for mental health, we can't pay for those days off but we'll tell everyone you're down with flu'— Philip Amour 🍍 (@philipamour) July 1, 2017
Congleton has now written a post on Medium explaining his response.
“It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace. In situations like this, it is so easy to tell your teammates you are ‘not feeling well’. Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues,” he wrote. “I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn’s bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue.”
“It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”
If you want more info and advice on mental health at work, Mind has a guide here.