It’s been trending in the news that Madalyn Parker, a web designer suffering from chronic anxiety and depression, received rare positive feedback from her supervisor when she told him that she was taking a sick day for her mental health. Here is the response.
This feedback opens a larger conversation on how we can make mental health a priority for employees and how we can destigmatize mental illness in the workplace. Also, it opens the dialogue on creating an atmosphere where it’s safe for employees to talk about what’s bothering them.
In my experiences and observations, many companies are still leery about workers being honest about their mental health. I’m pretty quiet about my anxiety and depression at work. I’ll imply it, but I won’t explicitly state it for fear that people will look at me differently and that it will cost me my job.
I understand why mental illness would be looked down upon in comparison to physical illness. Physical illness is tangible. “I see that you have a broken arm,” “I feel that you’re heating up,” etc. Mental illness doesn’t manifest into physical symptoms until in it’s in a full blown stage, where at that point help may be too late. Also, people who don’t understand mental illness might see it as an excuse since they can’t see the symptoms.
My defense is just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there. My OCD manifests in invisible things such as headaches and dizziness. Some other people’s mental illness can manifest in hallucinations and avoidance of the outside world. It’s not the supervisor or fellow workers to judge.
To add to my defense, here are some ideas to create a positive, yet productive place for robust mental health in the workplace:
- Zero Tolerance on Bullying: Bullying doesn’t happen only on the internet and the school yard, it also happens at work. It includes physical and verbal aggression, making fun of people, excluding people from opportunities, or undermining them. As an employee and supervisor, don’t participate in any form of bullying and support your staff who are bullied.
- Be Supportive: It’s a duh strategy, but listening to people and helping them through their struggles is immense. If your peer or employee is going through a hard time, it’s important to hear them out. If they need a day off to get their emotions together, allow it. A happy employee, rather than a miserable one will be a better worker than one who just wants the day to be over.
- Be Informed: Even if it’s not in your organization’s budget, attend workshops and read up on articles about mental health and mental illness. The more informed you are, the better the support you could be for yourself or a colleague with mental illness.
- Workplace Bonding: It sounds cheesy, but having small gatherings with employees outside of work ever so often creates a camaraderie that fosters friendship, trust, and loyalty. Friendship, trust, and loyalty are important caveats for stable mental health.
So kudos to Madalyn Parker’s boss for accepting her mental illness. I hope other supervisors follow suit because it opens the dialogue about a taboo topic that affects millions of people every day, especially at work.