One Woman's Upfront Attitude About Taking Mental Health Days At Work Is Helping To Challenge Stigma

"I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this."

Taking a mental health day from work, when needed, is something everyone should do, yet it's often not an accepted justification for missing a day. Many people choose to use a vacation or sick day without explanation. Others cite an excuse other than the real reason because of the stigma associated with mental health issues. Some just never take a day at all. But one woman is showing the importance of being upfront about taking a mental health day.  

On June 30, Madalyn Parker shared an email exchange she had with her CEO on Twitter, which has since gone viral. Parker, a web developer from Ann Arbor, Michigan, sent an email to her team explaining she'd be out of office because she was taking time off for mental health reasons. 


In response, her CEO Ben Congleton wrote, "I 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 — 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 all bring our whole selves to work." 

Parker's tweet has been shared nearly 12,000 times and has over 35,000 likes. Some people responded by asking why it matters to be open about the reason you're taking off. 

"I'm specific to be an example so my team knows that they can feel comfortable taking sick leave for mental health, even if they don't say it," Parker explained on Twitter. "Everyone is absolutely entitled to their privacy! I'm specific so that others who might not be comfortable know that MH is a valid sick day." 

In addition to reminding her own team about the importance of taking mental health days, Parker has been able to fight some of the stigma associated with doing so since her tweet became popular. She's started a dialogue to remind people that while mental health issues can be an invisible condition, it's just as important to take the appropriate measures to get well as with any other illness. 

The response on Twitter has overall been encouraging. Many people shared that they wish they could be as honest about their mental health with their bosses. Unfortunately, many of their stories are evidence that employers don't take mental health as seriously as they should.

Parker's CEO Ben Congleton was so surprised to see the positive impact of their email exchange that he wrote a post on Medium about the response

"It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace. 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. I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn's bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue," he wrote. "It's 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health. It's 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to offer paid sick leave. Did you know that only 73 percent of full-time employees in the US have paid sick leave?" 

Congleton offered up a few solutions. First, he encouraged executives to express gratitude toward individual members of their team. Next, he asked them to reflect on their company's values, and whether or not they help to "create a safe-space" for their teammates. "Think of one action you can take to help your teammates feel safe," he wrote. 

Hopefully, raising awareness about this issue will make more people feel comfortable about taking mental health days when they need to, as well as encourage managers to create an environment for their employees where they feel they can do this. 

Cover image via Shutterstock


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