Updated 13 July 2017

'I'm taking a mental health day'

Madalyn Parker recently told her boss that she was taking 'a mental health day'. How would you respond if you were her boss?


We use sick leave when we’re too sick to come into the office – flu, stomach bug or migraine. We use annual leave when we need a holiday to recharge.

But what about a mental health day? Should we take one (or more)? And would our boss understand what it means? 

Taking a mental health day

Madalyn Parker, a web developer in the USA, recently sent out shockwaves when she took a mental health day and tweeted her CEO's response.

She sent an email to her team explaining that she was taking two days off “to focus on my mental health”.

The CEO’s response surprised her. 

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at 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,” replied CEO Ben Congleton. 

Parker shared the exchange on social media and it was shared and retweeted thousands of times. 

Madalyn Parker quote

Breaking the stigma

“I wasn’t expecting the exposure, but I am so glad I was able to have such a positive impact on so many people. There were so many stories of people wishing they worked at a place where their CEO cared about their health, and so many people congratulating me on doing such a good thing,” Congleton said. 

Congleton shared his views on mental health in the workplace in a post he published on Medium: “It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health [sic].

“It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to offer paid sick leave. Did you know that only 73% of full time employees in the US have paid sick leave?

“It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

Putting mental health in the spotlight

Parker says: “I struggle with illness. Just as the flu would prevent me from completing my work, so do my depression and anxiety.” 

Dr Ali Hamdulay wrote in an article for SADAG that unfortunately employees still choose to suffer from their mental illness in silence, fearing stigma if they speak about it. Employers, on the other hand, avoid asking too many questions, hoping mental health disorders will go away on their own. 

If you suffer from a mental illness, you are under no legal obligation to disclose it. Labour lawyer Peter Strasheim previously told Health24: “A mental illness is often not apparent and not readily visible. Many employees choose to keep their diagnosis private and confidential.” 

However, being open with your line manager can help them understand your situation. 

Share your story

Would you – or have you – taken a mental health day and disclosed this to your boss? Please let us know (you can remain anonymous). Email Mandy Freeman and share your story. 

Read more: 

Should you tell your boss about your mental illness?

Can you take mental health days? What the law says

#LetsTalk about depression


Ask the Expert

Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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