I came across a story (click here to read) in which an employee took it upon herself to tell her team that she was going to be out for a couple of days to focus on her mental health. The response she received from her CEO is going viral. Check it out:
When I first came across the story I assumed the response was going to be crass or something of the sort but then when I saw that the response was opposite I was shocked. Then I began to think that this really shouldn’t be a shocking story at all. This CEO is absolutely correct in stating that using sick days for mental health should be standard practice across all organizations. So why isn’t this standard practice? What’s so wrong with being upfront and letting everyone know that you need time to yourself to clear your head? Oh yeah, that’s right. Our society has placed a stigma on mental health. This subject was even a hot topic in Washington D.C. as there may be cuts in coverage for mental health services once the Affordable Healthcare Act (aka “Obamacare) is repealed under the Trump administration (1). So if 1 out of every 5 Americans suffer from mental illness (2), then why is it so taboo for American’s to acknowledge their mental health needs a sick day in a corporate setting?
I must admit that I have probably not been my best mental health advocate at all times. Honestly, I can say that only in the last five- six years have I chosen to use sick time on myself for mental health reasons. Prior to those six years, I have never called out and I know there were many of times I should have. And I am going to be completely honest with you right now, I never communicate to my manager or team even now that I needed the day off for my sanity. I just say “I need to use a sick day today,” Point. Blank. Period. Not only does it feel uncomfortable for me to tell my communicate this in an office setting. It was also weird for me to ever say that at home. I did not come from a background where it was common to acknowledge the state of my mental health. And quite honestly some people in my family are still not comfortable talking about this subject which makes it a little taboo.
I remember telling a close family member who was trying to get a hold of me at a time I used my own “mental health” sick day. When I finally spoke with them a day later and told them why they couldn’t reach me and suggested they take some time for themselves, the response I received was “I don’t have the luxury of taking a day off because I felt the need to get my head right.” When the person said this I was honestly looking at the other end of the phone like ol’ girl from scared straight.
I was thinking “why the hell can’t you use the time you earned on yourself?” Where was the logic in that? But as an African-American, Black Caribbean (as called in the U.K. which I am from) woman, I do realize that there is a stigma against mental health within my community. African Americans are 20% more likely to report having psychological distress than Whites and Hispanics. Yet young African Americans with higher levels of education are 20% less likely to seek medical services than our White friends and neighbors (3). That means me, my family, and close friends of mine that look like me are less likely to actually use the resources that are available to us when it comes to needing advice regarding our mental health. And that’s the God honest truth. So why would I or someone that looks like me not be likely to use mental health services? Shoot, I am not even suppose to be writing this post if we are going to be honest.
Overall, I think we only talk about mental health when it comes to mental sickness and are so quick to judge and exclude ourselves from anyway possible of being considered “crazy.” Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act (4). Mental illness refers to mental health conditions or disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior (5).
Stigma stems from judgement of a mental illness when a person is not fully informed as to what they are dealing with is an illness, and as a result they do not know where to begin their search for help or have the ultimately understanding that mental illnesses are treatable. We all have times in which we feel down but if you do not have an understanding that it may not always be something you can snap out of and feel ashamed to look for resources to help you then you may just “pray it away” not realizing you will be right back to square one when these emotions rear their head again. Mental health will vary among different communities as culture contexts vary in how people view and approach this subject. In my community, this stigma is more rampant.
In African and Caribbean households, even acknowledging mental health is seen as a sign of weakness or the fact that you even believe in the notion of you having a mental health issue makes you seem “crazy” or even admitting it makes you more vulnerable to being taken advantage of . In everyday life, there is an immense about of pressure on us to put our best foot forward as we are held to higher standards than our counterparts. And honestly, when you are trying to “stay ahead or even” in society we cannot afford to stop working or functioning in life because we don’t feel well. Taking a day off is not going to bring food on the table. The average black family would take 222 years to build wealth of a white family (6). So we put our emotions to the wayside and put on a face of resilience before the world to see. Also, if you have a mistrust of the resources available or are not able to access resources for help then you are less likely to seek help and more likely to try to cope with your illness as well as try to function in your everyday life with it including at work.
We spend most of our waking days away in an office and will do so for majority of our lives. We need to come to terms that out of your 30 years of working when our emotions are not at their best. Think about how many life events are inevitable to take place in the next thirty years of your life. This isn’t even talking about the mental circus you may be even encountering on a daily basis at your job. There have been times in my life just the battle of dealing with the politics, gossip, and pressure of trying to keep the job was enough to do me in and it did. I thought this CEO made a really good point in his post on Medium (7 ) “when an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover.” Are we really going to act like sometimes life doesn’t just knock us down and we don’t need a moment to try to find the strength to get back up? We need to get rid of the idea that the brain is any different.
I have made it my personal mission to take care of myself and my mental health. I personally think it is silly to accept the notion that I am crazy to seek out some guidance by a professional in this area when I feel it is needed. And I know it is a serious topic as I have seen other in the blogging community, friends, and even in the news recently we have seen a string of celebrities that have fought their battle with mental illness and we have sadly seen some who have lost the battle. My advice would be you do what is best for you and do not worry about the judgement of others. If you feel you need to get help from a professional, do so! Also find ways of balancing your mental health with a good diet, exercise, meditating, socializing with good friends and family, or etc. Even getting 15 minutes of direct sunshine helps our serotonin levels which helps boost your mood (8). Take care of yourself, love.
- The Atlantic. (2017). https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/05/how-the-american-health-care-act-would-affect-mental-health-coverage/528291/
- Newsweek. (2014). http://www.newsweek.com/nearly-1-5-americans-suffer-mental-illness-each-year-230608
- Ebony. (2012). http://www.ebony.com/wellness-empowerment/black-folks-and-mental-health-610#axzz4mgpMhrbD
- U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health/index.html
- Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/basics/definition/con-20033813
- Website. https://www.thenation.com/article/the-average-black-family-would-need-228-years-to-build-the-wealth-of-a-white-family-today/
- Medium. (2017). https://medium.com/@OlarkLiveChat/its-2017-and-mental-health-is-still-an-issue-in-the-workplace-61efbef092f
- Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/prefrontal-nudity/201111/boosting-your-serotonin-activity
- “I was waiting for you at the door.” Giphy, 2015, https://giphy.com/gifs/waiting-beyond-scared-straight-i-was-on-you-at-the-door-3o6ZtgoCUZFFAoxUmk
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