We have all been there.
Whether we’re feeling burnt out, stressed out, or simply exhausted from the strain of being overworked, most employees either don’t take time off or we lie and come up with some “legitimate” illness to request a sick day in order to have a mental health day that we so desperately need.
A recent Twitter post went viral when Madalyn Parker, who works for live chat software engineering company Olark, posted an exchange between herself and her boss. In the exchange, Parker is informing her team that she plans on taking the rest of the week off to restore her mental health. Olark CEO Ben Congleton responds by praising her efforts to bring awareness to the often-ignored issue of using a sick day as a mental health day.
The tweet immediately went viral and currently has 35,000 likes and over 11,000 retweets. Parker has been advocating and spreading awareness about mental health for years now, evidenced by this blog post she authored in 2015 to help people overcome mental health issues at work.
However, the fact that Parker and Congleton’s exchange is so shocking brings forth a number of questions, namely–Why do we feel so uncomfortable hitting the pause button to address our mental health?
The simple answer is that mental health is not a priority for both employees and employers. We’re taught phrases like, “work hard, play hard” and “no pain, no gain.” From youth, the idea that we should be working ourselves into the ground is reinforced over and over again.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines mental illness as any mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder—excluding developmental and substance use disorders. Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year. Mood disorders, including major depression, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for both youth and adults aged 18–44.
With such high stakes, one would think that mental health is a valid reason to request paid time off from an employer. No one should be penalized for needing a break from the stressors of his/her work environment.
Thankfully, in recent years there has been increased awareness about the importance of taking care of one’s mental health. In May 2016, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry launched the Heads Together campaign to take aggressive actions to help reduce the stigma around mental health issues. A spokesman for the three members of the Royal family stated, “Too often, they have seen that people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of judgment stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives.”
We can all do our part to support ourselves, friends, and family on this journey to defeating the prejudice surrounding mental health issues. The next time you are feeling overworked or overwhelmed, think about taking a mental health day, and encourage others to do the same. I know I will.
Do you think that taking a mental health day is a valid reason to receive paid time off?
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