An Email From This Strong Woman Is Helping To Break The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Issues
With the increase in depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues facing people nowadays, everyone must get a breather now and then. You’d think that’s a no-brainer, but unfortunately, it’s harder than it should be. Mental health isn’t taken as seriously as physical health, especially at the workplace, so taking a day off for mental health reasons is a Herculean task for most workers.
Not for this woman
Madalyn Parker, a web developer and engineer at Olark Live Chat, has shown that not all organizations and bosses are impossible to deal with where mental health is concerned. On her website, Madalyn wrote, “I am a mental health advocate. Sometimes I write about it. Sometimes I speak at conferences.” 
And she proved it when she sent an email to her team asking for a few days to focus on her mental health. CEO Ben Congleton’s response pleasantly surprised people all over the world including Madalyn. She tweeted the email exchange and the tweet has garnered over 32,000 likes and 9,500 retweets. Below is an image of the correspondence between them via email.
One person responded on Twitter saying, “I’m gonna have to start job hunting soon and I’m mentally ill and have panic attacks. Thanks for giving me hope that I can find a job as I am.” 
A boss like Ben Congleton
He certainly is everyone’s dream boss. We all want someone open-minded and non-judgmental. No one wants to lie about the real reason they need a day off, however, it happens more often than not, and on a follow-up post, Ben brought the topic up. He said, “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.” 
Congleton wrote a post for Medium titled, “It’s 2017 and mental health is still an issue in the workplace.” There, he expressed his surprise about his post going viral and people reaching out to him stating that he was “blowing up on their Twitter feed.” Nevertheless, he took advantage of the exposure and dropped some statistics and information on mental health in the workplace.
“It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when one in six 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% of full-time employees in the U.S. 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.” 
Workplace stigma around mental health
Stigma is essentially the negative ways people are labeled or perceived. It’s a strong belief people hold about different groups, whether it’s an ethnicity, trait, or other generalized characteristics. People with mental illnesses fall into these groups and are often “picked on.” While workplace stigmatization of people with mental health issues is not as visible as high school bullying, it is still devastating, even in its subtlety.
It’s no small issue
Stigma in the workplace is one of the biggest barriers to psychological health and feelings of safety for employees with mental health issues. According to a 2011 study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, “Just over one in 10 adults reported taking prescription drugs for ‘problems with emotions, nerves, or mental health‘.”
A new study carried out in 2013 showed that “One in six U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug such as antidepressants or a sedative.”  This goes to show that mental health issues are on the rise in America.
When people battling with some mental issues work in a place with an unforgiving work culture, or that does not permit them to express their feelings safely, their mental issues can become more severe. They can become depressed, anxious, or more withdrawn.
People of color find it harder to discuss mental health, let alone receive mental health care
The implication of poor mental health attitudes are especially salient for African Americans and Latinos who already face other forms of discrimination. In October 2016, HuffPost reported that, “According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of Minority Health, black people are 10 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than white people.  There’s a stigma when it comes to black men talking about their mental health.”
More than just the stigma, black people in America who are facing mental health challenges also have to deal with insufficient health care resources, increased exposure to things that cause mental health illnesses, and other barriers to receiving appropriate help. For Latinos, mental health is a dicey situation since latinos are less likely to report mental illness.  They do not feel others (including medical professionals) can relate to their mental health care — and for good reason.
According to a 2014 survey, “African-Americans make up less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members.” The case is similar for Latinos. In a study based on randomly selected samples, “just one percent of the members of the American Psychology Association identified themselves as Latino.”  Quite a bit of work needs to be done to improve these health disparities, including increasing the number of racial minority health providers.
Workplace stigma does not only come from having mental health issues, but from having colleagues and bosses who do not understand it. That is why Ben and Madalyn’s efforts to speak openly about the need for mental health care are so inspiring.
More organizations must take a page from their book and place more importance on the mental health of their employees.
- “Madalyn Rose Parker,” Madalyn Parker.
- “The woman challenging mental health stigma with her Out Of Office,” BBC. January 2019.
- “This Woman Requested Mental Health Days And Got the Kindest Response From Her Boss,” Cosmopolitan. July 2017.
- “It’s 2017 and Mental Health is still an issue in the workplace,” Medium. July 2017.
- “1 in 6 Americans Takes a Psychiatric Drug,” Scientific American. December 2016.
- “Mental and Behavioral Health – African Americans,” Minority Health. 2018.
- “Latinos struggle to find help for mental health issues,” BBC. October 2013.
- “Closing the gap for Latino Patients,” APA. January 2005.