Staying cognizant of your mental health is incredibly important, but it often takes a backseat in the office, when everyone is trying to look powerful and invulnerable.
Whether you’re seeing a therapist for something like depression, bipolar disorder, or anything in between, bringing this subject up can feel isolating, depending on what you’re managing and your workplace.
That’s why a positive email response from a CEO about taking time off for mental health— posted on Twitter last month by Madalyn Parker, an employee at remote, live-chat software company Olark— stands out.
The CEO shows his support for Parker’s choice
Here are the emails Parker posted on Twitter.
When the CEO responds to your out of the office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision. 💯 pic.twitter.com/6BvJVCJJFq
— madalyn (@madalynrose) June 30, 2017
Olark CEO and Co-Founder Congleton recently wrote about mental health at work in a LinkedIn post following the response to the tweet.
Twitter users weighed in
It’s so rare for companies to acknowledge that their employees might be whole humans — and not just workers — that many people could barely process Rose’s anecdote. This person was surprised and envious.
Had to do a double take to realize your boss and your company are so awesome! I wish at least half the companies on the planet were as nice
— The Zooter (@BluntBong) July 6, 2017
This Twitter user, however, questioned it.
This was Parker’s response.
I'm specific to be an example so my team knows that they can feel comfortable taking sick leave for mental health, even if they don't say it
— madalyn (@madalynrose) July 6, 2017
These were just a few of the many comments on Parker’s post, but they help illustrate the ongoing debate about the topic.
How to discuss your mental health with your boss
Here are some tips.
Read the room
Parker wrote about how she brought up her mental health with Matt, one of her company’s cofounders, “outside of any depressive episode” in a 2015 Medium post (which has a trigger warning at the top for “depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts”).
“This interaction set the precedent for all other experiences I’ve had with sharing my obstacles with my colleagues. I brought it up somewhat casually, as it’s difficult to admit these kinds of problems to people when you are so used to internalizing them. I explained my anguish over my technical performance and how passionate I was about my job. Matt didn’t mention my performance at all. The conversation was quickly focused on my well-being and health, and the team’s willingness to work with me during my low points,” Parker wrote.
She added that her mother was “absolutely horrified that I would put myself at risk for marginalization,” but she had to explain why that wasn’t her situation.
No, you don’t have to share every detail
Whether or not you choose to tell your boss is most likely up to you, but maintaining your own privacy is important.
After writing about disclosing her depression to her manager, Betsy Aimee continues in an article for The Muse:
“Obviously, not everyone has that kind of relationship with her supervisor, so don’t feel obligated to disclose details. If you’re taking a lot of time off or you’re worried others will wonder what’s going on, you can tell them that you’ve been “dealing with some health issues” and leave it at that. Or, consult with HR to determine the best approach. If don’t want to discuss specifics with your colleagues at all, request a few days off and do whatever helps you cope with your symptoms and re-group. Really. It may mean the difference between maintaining your professional reputation and having a breakdown at the office.”
Consider talking to HR
Marc J. Romano, Psy.D., assistant medical director at Ocean Breeze Recovery, and Katherine Glick, licensed professional counselor, certified holistic health coach, and therapist at Talkspace told SELF about this topic.
“If you’re not sure how your boss will respond, go to HR first. Romano tells SELF that sometimes it’s a good idea to talk to HR from the get-go. ‘If you suffer from chronic and severe mental illness, you probably want to share that with HR and not wait until there’s problems at work, because then it could look like you’re just bringing it up because you don’t want to get in trouble,’ he says. An HR rep can also can help you, or even go with you to discuss it with your manager. Glick suggests this could be helpful ‘just so the HR person can monitor any responses that are unethical or inappropriate,'” the article says.
Keep what the law says in mind
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the federal law that protects employees with physical or mental impairments, may offer you some protection at work. It’s important to keep in mind that the ADA doesn’t contain a list of specific conditions that constitute disabilities. Rather, the law has a general definition of disability; it covers ‘a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.’ What that means, in practice, is that whether or not you’re covered will depend on your specific symptoms. However, if you are covered, the law says that you are entitled to reasonable accommodations from your employer if such accommodations will help you to maintain your job performance. However, you still must be able to perform the essential functions of your job, with or without accommodations,” Green wrote.