While most of us understand the importance of taking a day off work if we have a cold (to make a full recovery and to keep from contaminating our colleagues), it's probably safe to say that we're a little more hesitant when it comes to mental health days off. After all, despite the progress we've made in reducing mental health stigma, we still have a long way to go before mental health is taken as seriously as physical health.
But Madalyn Parker, a web developer at software company Olark, knows how important it is to look after her emotional well-being, and recently decided to take two days out to focus on her mental health. When she sent out an email to alert her colleagues, her boss sent her a direct reply — to thank her.
Parker tweeted a screenshot of her original message along with her boss's response, writing, "When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision."
Parker had told her colleagues that she would be "taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I'll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%."
Ben Congleton, her boss and the company's CEO, responded personally, writing that he wanted to thank her for being honest about taking care of her mental health.
"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 organizations," he wrote. "You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work."
Parker, who has been working at the company since 2014, tells Refinery29 that she wasn't always so open about her mental health when she first started — "but after assessing my situation and talking to individuals in the company I decided to talk to the founders about my struggle."
"They were really compassionate and decided to give a team-wide presentation on the importance of mental health and how to support each other," she said.
Since Parker's tweet went viral, Congleton has written his own response in a post on Medium, where he wrote that he wasn't expecting his email to receive such a positive response, but he's glad that it seems to have had an impact on people.
"It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace," he wrote. "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."
"It’s 2017," he continued. "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."
Congleton's take on mental health days is refreshing, especially during a time when many of us don't take the time off that we deserve. Admittedly, we've still got a long way to go before everyone is comfortable taking a mental health day if they need it — but bosses like Congleton and people as open as Parker are certainly taking steps in the right direction.
This story has been updated to reflect Parker's comments to Refinery29.
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