People often joke about taking off work for a mental health day. However, in reality, employees may fear the reaction from their superiors if mental health is their reason for taking one.
In June 2017, Madalyn Parker took that risk and messaged her team to tell them she was taking a few sick days. She called out her mental health in the note: “I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
Her CEO’s reaction is what made this newsworthy. Instead of stigmatizing or chastising her for taking a sick day, Olark CEO Ben Congleton praised and thanked her for openly focusing on her mental health:
“…just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health…you are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Madalyn tweeted the CEO’s response, and her tweet went viral — earning more than 16,000 retweets and 45,000 likes. Clearly, Ms. Parker touched on an important issue – that mental health is as important as physical health.
Spotlight on Mental Health at Work
To reduce the stigma of mental health, the World Health Organization (WHO) is spotlighting the issue for this year’s World Mental Health Day with the theme, “Mental Health in the Workplace.” The day addresses the value of promoting well-being in work settings of all kinds, from agriculture to industry, finance, government, technology and beyond.
Mental health is an important issue for the workforce. According to WHO:
- 10 percent of the employed population have taken time off work for depression.
- 36 workdays are lost on average per depression episode.
- 50 percent of people with depression are untreated.Mental health issues can cause employee absenteeism and a lower rate of productivity. These problems can impact the bottom line for employers. According to a random sample of more than 28,000 workers by Stewart, et al. published in Inc. Magazine, mental illness can cost U.S. employers an estimated $225.8 billion each year. In addition, a study published in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology found that depression may have the greatest negative impact on time management and productivity.
- What does a mental-health friendly workplace look like? According to the WFMH, some of the values include:
- “One in five people in the workplace experience a mental health condition,” said Gabriel Ivbijaro, World Federation for Mental Health president (WFMH). “While many employers are developing policies to support a healthy workforce, there is no shared vision for mental health in the workplace.”
- A health care plan that treats mental illnesses with the same urgency as physical illnesses.
- Programs and practices that promote and support employee health-wellness and/or work-life balance.
- Training for managers and front-line supervisors in mental health workplace issues, including identification of performance problems that may indicate worker distress and possible need for referral and evaluation.“A healthy workplace benefits workers and employers alike,” said World Mental Health Day’s honorary chair, Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
Anyone can help raise awareness. WFMH suggests:
- Use the hashtag #WorldMentalHealthDay to promote the day and activities.
- Sign the pledge, which states “support for the mental health of all of our workforce.”
- Place a banner on company websites to mark the occasion.Taking a mental health day is a legitimate reason for missing work, and should be treated as such. Madelyn Parker through her tweet and Ben Congleton through his response, are setting a strong example to follow on World Mental Health Day and every day.