Madalyn Parker, a web developer in Ann Arbor, Michigan, emailed her colleagues to say she’d be using two sick days to focus on her mental health. The company’s CEO, Ben Congleton, responded by thanking her for helping “cut through the stigma of mental health.”
Parker shared his positive response on Twitter, and the story has gone viral. The tweet has sparked discussions across major media about workplace mental health.
Treat Mental Health Like Physical Health
If you had a cold, you might decide to power through your workday. But if you had the flu, you’d likely need to stay home and rest.
And no one would call you weak for getting the flu. In fact, your co-workers would likely thank you for not coming into the office when you’re sick.
Mental health rarely gets the same respect. Instead, people are told to “get over it” when they’re struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental health issues.
But mental health is part of your overall health. If you don’t proactively address your mental health, you won’t be able to perform at your best.
When To Take A Mental Health Day
As a psychotherapist, I’ve helped many people determine whether they were mentally healthy enough to do their job. And much of it depends on the mental health issue you’re grappling with and what kind of work you do.
I once worked with a bus driver who was battling depression. She fought to maintain her concentration but would sometimes grow forgetful. It was clearly a safety concern, requiring more than one mental health day. She needed a leave of absence to work on herself.
Fortunately, most people in need of a mental health day aren’t in such a dire condition. Instead, they’re struggling to handle stress, regulate their thoughts, or manage their emotions. And a day or two away from the office might give them an opportunity to administer the self-care they need to get back on track.
Here are a few times when you might decide you need a mental health day:
• When you’re distracted by something you need to address. If you’re behind on your bills and taking a day off to tackle your budget could help you feel as though you’re back in control, it may make sense to take a day to address it so you can reduce your anxiety.
• When you’ve been neglecting yourself. Just like electronic devices need recharging, it’s important to take time to charge your own batteries. A little alone time or an opportunity to practice some self-care can help you perform better.
• When you need to attend appointments to care for your mental health. Whether you need to see your doctor to get your medication adjusted or to schedule an appointment with your therapist, taking a day off to address your mental health needs is instrumental in helping you be your best.
Why Leaders Should Care About Employees’ Mental Health
It would be wonderful if all employers supported employees’ efforts to take care of their mental health in the same way Congleton did. But clearly, the tweet went viral because most employers wouldn’t have had the same reaction.
That’s unfortunate because workplace mental health is important not to just to individuals, but to the entire workforce.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 17% of the U.S. population is functioning at optimal mental health. And 1 in 5 people experience a diagnosable mental health condition at any given time.
The Center for Prevention and Health estimates mental illness and substance abuse issues cost employers up to $105 billion annually. Reduced productivity, absenteeism and increased healthcare costs are just a few of the ways mental health issues cost employers money.
Fortunately, conversations like the one sparked by this tweet can be key to reducing the stigma that surrounds mental health. Clearly, people aren’t either mentally healthy or mentally ill.
Mental health is a continuum, and likely, we all have room for improvement. Taking a mental health day every once in a while could help you build mental strength and improve your mental health.