Mental Illness Sick Days

mental illness

If you get the flu, you would probably do what anyone would do, call in sick. After all, you wouldn't want to risk passing a bug on to your coworkers or work at less than 100 percent. Every day, millions of people call in sick to work for various illnesses, it is commonplace. But, there are some illnesses that people shy away from calling in, for fear of professional consequences. Mental illness.

Millions of Americans, and hundreds of millions around the globe are living with what are, at times, debilitating mental health disorders. Yet, waking up amid a depressive episode or an anxiety attack might not prompt someone to contact their workplace asking for a day off. There are a number of reasons for this, some people experiencing such problems may not think it warrants a sick-day. Others may think that they can muscle through the workday without a loss of productivity. Perhaps more common, and even more saddening, is the fact that many employers do not understand mental health disorders. Or employers believe that they are just cause for a day away from the office. They might say something like: “we all struggle with angst at times, we all get a little sad from time to time.”

Just pick your head up, and put your best foot forward, right? Wrong! People who manage their mental illness day-in-day-out can’t always stay ahead of the symptoms. There are going to be days when functioning is just not a reality. In such cases, most people will try to hide it at work rather than let on that they have a condition. And it should go without saying that doing that can be a slippery slope. People living with behavioral health conditions, who do not put their well-being first, are at risk of exacerbating their symptoms.

Mental Illness Is Real

In the 21st Century the verdict on mental health disorders like anxiety, depression, bipolar, et al. is no longer out. Mental illness is real, in every family there is at least one person who has been touched by such disorders. People living with mental health issues should not be discriminated against or stigmatized. But, they are. Even in more enlightened environs, the afflicted feel as though they need to hide what is going on underneath the surface. The result of years of conditioning, perhaps.

With each year that passes, more and more people living with mental health disorders are saying, ‘enough!’ They will no longer be shamed into putting their needs last. It is a brave move, and can be costly to one’s career, because most employers are not so enlightened. However, there are some workplaces who encourage those with mental illness to take time for themselves when it is needed. Perhaps a sign that the ‘times they are a-changin.' Not too long ago, few could’ve imagined calling in sick for mental health reasons, and returning to work on Monday with their job intact.

A recent email exchange between an employee and an employer regarding this subject went ‘viral’ (no pun intended) this month. A truly remarkable story of a CEO who understands the negative impact of mental health stigma. Madalyn Parker—an executive at Olark Live Chat—sent an email to her team at work explaining that she would be away from the office to focus on her mental health, PEOPLE reports. The response received from the company’s CEO was, well it was…up worthy!

Hey team, I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health,” Parker wrote. “Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.”
I just wanted to personally thank you for sending e-mails like this,” Olark CEO Ben Congleton wrote back. “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 bring our whole selves to work.”

There Is No Place for Stigma

Parker posted the exchange on social media, and the Internet celebrated and commended Congleton and Parker’s exchange. And for good reason. This kind of thing is infinitesimally rare. Which is why we need more of this type of exchange in the workplace. Normalizing mental health disorders is of the utmost importance. It will not only increase productivity, it will save lives.

Even in the safest environment it is still uncommon to be direct with your coworkers about mental health issues,” Congleton wrote on Medium, a few days later. “I wanted to call this out and express gratitude for Madalyn’s bravery in helping us normalize mental health as a normal health issue.”

Parker added:

After repeatedly being told to keep my problems to myself for fear of discrimination, it’s good to know that it actually is possible to be open about mental health (even at work!)…You should never feel like you can’t address your emotional well-being because ‘it’s just not something you talk about at work.’”

Co-Occurring Recovery

Many of us working programs of addiction recovery are living with a dual diagnosis, as well. A co-occurring mental illness that, like the addiction, must be managed every day of the week. If one’s symptoms of depression or anxiety are ignored, it could lead to a relapse—or something worse. If you are in recovery for a co-occurring disorder, it is vital that you do not put your employment before your personal wellbeing. Fearing the consequences of being upfront about what you are going through is normal. But ignoring your condition for the sake of a day’s work can be deadly.

If you are still in the grips of addiction, battling another form of mental health disorder as well—please contact PACE Recovery Center to begin the lifesaving journey of addiction recovery.

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