People & Human Resources

Global praise for web developer who honestly asked for a ‘mental health day’

Angela Priestley /

When Michigan-based web developer Madalyn Parker emailed her team to say she’d be taking some time off for two days to “focus on my mental health” and that “hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%”, she received an unlikely response from her boss, Ben Congleton.

He wasn’t upset that she wouldn’t be coming into work, but rather thanked her for sending “emails like this”. “Every time you do,” he wrote, “I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health.”

He added something that many of us can probably agree with: disbelief that actually using sick days for mental health, and admitting you’re doing so, is not standard practice in all organisations. “You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,” said Congleton.

Nice, right?

Even better is how far this story has since been shared, and the positive response it’s received.

Madalyn tweeted the short email exchange, saying: “When the CEO responds to your out of office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision”.

The tweet has since been retweeted more than 15,000 times and liked more than 43,000 times.

Even Sheryl Sandberg has seen tweet, thanking Madalyn for being “so open”, and her chief executive for showing “such compassion”.

Around one in five Australian adults will experience a mental illness every year, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Around 45% of us aged 16 to 85 will experience mental illness at some point in our lives.

If you manage or supervise people, it’s highly likely that you’ll come across a team member with some form of mental illness during your career — although you may or may not realise it. You may well be in a position to provide early intervention and support.

The workplace can also provide a catalyst for a mental illness, due to stress or bullying or something else. Indeed, according to further research cited by the AHRC, “job stress and other work-related psychosocial hazards are emerging as the leading contributors to the burden of occupational disease and injury”, with stress-related compensation claims costing more than $10 billion every year.

It’d be nice to get to a point where requesting a day or two off for your mental health is as acceptable as it is for taking time out due to a cold or the flu.

Employers may find that creating such a culture could see them achieving significant cost-savings, given the billions that are lost every years due to businesses failing to provide early treatment and intervention to employees with mental health conditions.

For help with depression and anxiety, contact BeyondBlue. Chat online or call 1300 22 4636. 

This article was first published by Women’s Agenda.

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Angela Priestley

Angela Priestley is the publisher and founding editor of Women's Agenda. She's an author, journalist and passionate advocate for workplace gender equality and diversity. Her first book is Women Who Seize the Moment.

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