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Boss' Response To Employee Asking For Mental Health Day Off Is So Important

Everyone should be able to take time off for self-care.

07/11/2017 10:03 EDT | Updated 07/11/2017 10:03 EDT

Normally when one asks for a sick day, the reason is usually for a physical illness, such as a cold, or the flu.

But when we're having a bad day mentally, whether it's related to stress, anxiety, or depression, we have a hard time asking for time off because there are no designated sick days for mental illness. And that's a problem.

However, one employee and her boss have gone viral for shedding light on the importance of asking for a sick day to take care of one's mental health.

Madalyn Parker, a web developer at Olark, recently took a couple days off work, explaining in an email that she needed to "focus on my mental health."

Olark's CEO replied to her email, and his response surprised her — in a good way.

Since tweeting a screengrab of the emails, Parker's tweet has been liked more than 33,000 times and retweeted more than 10,000 times.

The response was immediate, with some people sharing their stories of what happened when they tried to take mental health days.

Others were hopeful that they could find jobs where they could take mental health days.

However, not everyone understood the importance of taking time off for mental health.

So Parker explained why it's so important.

In 2015, Parker wrote an emotional essay about her battle with mental health issues and how they have affected her career. In it, she explains that she has lived with anxiety for "as long as I can remember," was exhausted, had frequent panic attacks, and was unable to concentrate during school.

After landing her "dream job," Parker says her medication stopped working, and entered a bad "mental space" where she felt "useless and listless" and couldn't get out of bed. She was discouraged from talking about her mental state with colleagues but she decided to speak with one of her work's founders.

"I brought it up somewhat casually, as it's difficult to admit these kinds of problems to people when you are so used to internalizing them. I explained my anguish over my technical performance and how passionate I was about my job.

"[Founder] Matt didn't mention my performance at all. The conversation was quickly focused on my well-being and health, and the team's willingness to work with me during my low points."

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Despite the fact that 20 per cent of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, corporate culture still stigmatizes mental disorders, even though having a healthy mental state is essential for employees to do their work well.

Ben Congleton, the CEO who replied to Parker's email, was so surprised by the positive response that he wrote an essay about it.

"It is incredibly hard to be honest about mental health in the typical workplace," he wrote. "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 co-workers 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."

"It's difficult to admit these kinds of problems to people when you are so used to internalizing them."

"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 per cent of full time employees in the US have paid sick leave?

"It's 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. 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."

To learn more about mental illness, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.