When Madalyn Parker needed some time off to focus on her mental health, she wrote an e-mail to her co-workers letting them know.
“Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 [per cent],” she wrote in the message.
Two weeks ago, the Olark Live Chat software developer from Ann Arbor, Mich., posted that e-mail exchange with her CEO Ben Congleton on Twitter — an exchange that has now gone viral.
“When the CEO responds to your out of the office e-mail about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision. ,” she wrote on the social media site.
In the e-mail, Congleton not only thanked her for reaching out but acknowledged how important it was to talk about mental health in the workplace.
“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending e-mails like this,” he 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 organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.”
Taking time off for mental health
“It’s a rare thing to be genuinely thanked and applauded for showing vulnerability,” Parker tells Global News. “Our culture often focuses on hiding any sign of weakness and it feels so relieving to not have to hide part of myself at work.”
But her tweet also brought up stories of others who didn’t have that same type of support. In a blog post written by Congleton a few days later, he said some social media users said they would be fired for bringing up their mental health at work.
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“There were so many stories of people wishing they worked at a place where their CEO cared about their health, and so many people congratulating me on doing such a good thing. This should be business as usual. We have a lot of work to do,” he wrote on his blog.
“I didn’t know that there were companies like this and I am so incredibly grateful that I have found one. I think it comes down to valuing me as a person,” Parker continues.
What companies should be doing
In light of her tweet, there has also been a discussion on how workplaces can support people with mental health conditions. Parker says, for starters, companies should highlight resources. “Make it incredibly easy for employees to find out if their insurance covers mental health,” she explains.
Normalizing the idea of going to therapy or speaking about your own personal mental health (especially if you are a leader at the workplace), can encourage others to take the time to decompress, she adds.
But she also understands her story and position is quite privileged, and unfortunately, approaching your team or CEO with a similar request doesn’t work for every individual.
“I’m doing my best to use that privilege to help normalize the issue of mental health. The more people that come forward and say, ‘Hey, I go through that too!’ The easier it will be for others to show compassion and trust those who struggle like I do.”
What you can do yourself
Julia Nguyen, a software engineer at Indiegogo in San Francisco, says it’s also important to integrate mental health as part of employee culture. In her workplace, she co-founded an office wellness committee as well as a health and wellness resource guide, crowd-sourced from employees.
“We’ve advocated for more quiet and private spaces for people to practice self-care,” she tells Global News. “One individual even started a daily meditation group. We’re partnering with mental health leaders to organize education workshops. Through our company’s health insurance, we’re looking into monthly in-office counselling.”
But this also comes down to management. “Managers have the responsibility to ensure their team members are supported, and that includes mental health. HR has the responsibility to supply their employees with mental health resources and services,” Nguyen continues.
“Mental health isn’t just mental illness – it’s part of being human. The more we acknowledge the role of mental health in our industry, the more we can help people get access to better health care, retain and support underrepresented employees, and build an authentic culture of inclusion.”