Depression & Mental Health Blog
October 10, 2017
CJ Peters
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The Internet is Freaking Out About This Email about Mental Health

When Madalyn Parker, a software developer, who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, requested time off, she never thought it was going to have this impact.

In a short email sent to her team, Parker said she’d be out of the office for a few days because she wanted to focus on her mental health. This bold move grabbed the attention of the company’s CEO, Ben Congleton, who sparked a conversation about mental health in the workplace that went viral in a matter of minutes.

Parker, who suffers from chronic anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression, told several media outlets that every now and then, she needs to take time off to focus on her mental well-being. After a rough patch that included insomnia and suicidal thoughts, Parker knew it was time to take some time off to be able to perform at work.

That’s when she sent the email:

“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%.

Thanks

Madalyn.”

What seems like a simple ‘sick-day’ email for many is actually a huge step for someone who suffers from a mental illness – especially at work. There is this misconception that mental health should not be disclosed at work, or that mental health is not an actual reason to request some time for yourself.

“Hey Madalyn,

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.”

At this point, Parker decided to share the unexpected response from her boss on Twitter with the caption: “When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision.”

The internet went crazy, and in just a matter of minutes, Parker’s tweet was receiving thousands of supportive, responsive messages praising her boss’ response.“It’s 2017. 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 wrote on Medium.

However, not all companies follow the same practices, and the internet was quick on noticing it. Some of the responses included:

“Wow, I wish! I needed a medical, mental health stay once. Upon my return, my boss told me not to let it happen again or my job would be gone.” Another user added, “I had to take a mental health day recently and lie about my reasoning for not coming in because it’s not seen as a viable excuse for missing work.”

Unfortunately, less than half of working Americans think their workplace environment supports employee well-being, according to an American Psychological Association survey back last year.

Congleton’s advice for other employers? Build a work environment where your employees feel comfortable discussing what’s bothering them. “There is this misconception that you can leave part of yourself home when you go to work. But some personal stuff is gonna hang in there and hold on,” Congleton added.

Whether or not you are ready to discuss your mental illness with your employer, you should be able to feel like you work in a safe environment to do so. Spread awareness in your workplace, work to get rid of the stigma surrounding mental health, and most importantly, know when you need time to work on yourself before it affects your well-being.