In late June, Madalyn Parker, a web developer working at the company Olark in Ann Arbor, Michigan, decided to take a few mental health days away from the job. The surprising part: she actually told her boss exactly why she would be missing work. Even more surprising, the company CEO, Ben Congleton was completely supportive of her decision.
It would probably be safe to assume that most people have taken a mental health day or two or five in their lives. Again, it would be safe to assume that most people don’t tell their bosses this. They call in sick or come up with another excuse that is not as stigmatized as admitting you need some time to take care of your mind. Clare Miller, director of the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, a division of the American Psychiatric Association Foundation says, “We know from literature that there is a huge amount of calling in sick because of mental health issues.”
Mental Health and the American Workplace
- The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that in 2014 about 1 in 5 American adults experienced a mental health problem, and 1 in 25 American adults had a major mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
- Anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting 18% of American adults.
- In 2013, 1 in 6 Americans reported taking psychiatric drugs such as antidepressants or sedatives.
- A 2016 study by the American Psychological Association, found that only 44% of American workers believe that “the climate in their organization supports employee well-being.” 1 in 3 of those workers also reported being chronically stressed at work.
- Ninety percent of employers now offer employee assistance programs that deal with mental health issues. Charles Lattarulo, the head of American Express’ Healthy Minds campaign told CBS News, “Our global mental health strategy is the belief that we can reduce stigma, that we can make this a safe place to have a mental illness. We embed mental health into the fabric of our culture.”
The Stigma of Mental Illness
Many different factors contribute to mental illnesses, including biological (physical illness, brain chemistry), social (trauma, abuse), and genetic (family history of mental illness) issues. The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health urges employers to “Encourage employees to seek care when they need it by educating the workforce that mental illnesses are real, are medical illnesses rather than conditions of weak character or willpower, and can be effectively treated. Short- and long-term psychological treatment has been shown to improve work abilities in people with anxiety disorders.”
While the stigma around mental health is gradually lessening, many of the responses to Parker’s now-viral tweet demonstrate that society still has a long way to go when it comes to understanding and treating mental health and self-care.
Self-Care and Wellness
Depending on your situation, there are many ways to start taking care of yourself if you are suffering from a mental illness. Mental health is just as important as physical health, and the two often are dependent on each other. Organizations like Mental Health America and GoodTherapy.org offer many examples of self-care, including eating right, exercising regularly, meditating, attending therapy, and connecting often with good friends. Even maintaining good posture has been shown to improve the moods of those suffering from mild to moderate depression!
Physical health is only one facet of your overall well-being. In order to be your best self, it is necessary to take care of your mind as well as your body, and tweets like Madalyn Parker’s show that society is starting to understand how important self-care is to lead a happy and productive life.