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Mental health is still an issue in the workplace (medium.com)
659 points by bcx on July 6, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 330 comments

Here is what i learned from my now blue collar career and my old white collar career

Take sick days. Plan sick days.

My corp job had unlimited sick Time - after 5 days required disability. I felt i had to go every day; no breaks. No way to get a health day. Wanted to be that (very stupid) employee that never took a sick day. Didnt realize it benefited company. I chose my company over my family by not calling out. I wasnt "sick" i thought.

My Blue collar jobs i have to show sick dr note, but that is quite legit and easy. No stress. Dont feel well; tired? Back hurts? Spouse ill? I call out. NO GUILT.

Avoid the mental health or stress words. Use stomach or lyme or back injury or vision.

Looking back all my "i dont call in sick" didnt do me one iota of good

Now, i take off if and when i want. How i wish i was blue collar first before white collar

One of the hardest things to explain to anyone is burnout and the after effects. I've experienced it myself, along with plenty of people around me. But I also know many friends and family members who are committing themselves to their jobs beyond their ability to healthily sustain their lives. This includes working very long hours, essentially never turning work "off". It impacts their health, their relationships and their mental well-being.

Trying to warn people who have yet to deal with it seems impossible. I've had sit-down heart-to-heart conversations with people I love about commitment to work, expectation setting, work/life balances, etc. and I've never had a good outcome. I've watched people go through the inevitable physical sickness that never seems to go away, and then have that turn into emotional and mental sickness which also never seems to go away. In the end, I always wish there was something more I could do to help them head this off. But no matter how hard I've tried it still happens.

While it's great that we are discussing this topic, my first reaction is: why does a worker even need an excuse?

Isn't it a bit odd that companies who otherwise trust employees with business critical matters, sometimes matters of life and death even, won't trust them to be mature enough to decide when they need to take time off?

When I was in grade 7, me and this girl Elissa were seated at the back of the class. We had the kind of desks where you had to lift up the top to get at your books.

We were lifting the tops up to hide behind them while 'secretly' telling each other stupid jokes and giggling.

In retrospect, the teacher definitely knew what we were doing but he probably figured since we were generally good kids he'd just let us get away with it and have a bit of fun.

I don't understand. Why isn't it standard practice to just issue a set of "personal days" without regard to "sickness", "leisure", or "mental sanity"? My company switched to this a couple of years ago and doesn't require an explanation. They are your days off, take them as you see fit.

It's strange to have that allowance laid out as a fixed number up front.

Most of my jobs in my career have offered 25-30 days paid holiday, plus the 8 or so days of public holidays, and paid sick leave.

That way you don't fall into a trap of debating whether you should use your last allotted "personal day" on something you might thing isn't worth taking it for as you might need it later.

It is for a lot of companies. It's called "PTO" or Paid Time Off.

Isn't that called "holidays"? We have one month every year by law here. But of course you have to negotiate when they are with your employer.

I find it strange any employee would need to be specific about a sick day.

In general, we as a culture tend towards confidentiality about medical conditions.

I have rarely used sick days when in a salaried position, and take a bit of pride in that. But when I do, I expect to not need to explain myself. And I have no problem on a personal ethics level using a sick day for pretty much anything that feels beyond my control, unavoidable, unexpected, and would prevent me from doing a good job.

Maybe that's not the exact letter of what a sick day is for in my employment agreement, but I've never been questioned about a sick day.

I am under the impression the stipulations about what a sick day can be used for are protection against abuse by employees who will game the system. Since that's not me, I don't give it much thought.

I don't get this whole thing. Whatever happened to talking to your superiors about this kinda stuff? I've taken plenty of "sick" (of this job) days over the years and often times would proactively tell people to stay home if they were killing themselves (even locking out their accounts, if they went home and tried to work).

This had nothing to do with "mental health" it was just part of keeping people happy and not letting their work dictate their lives.

I'm bipolar and personally I would be afraid to tell my manager about it because there's still a great amount of social stigma.

"1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health." - that is very high. What's causing Americans to have so many mental health issues? I don't have the stats, but I cannot easily believe that this would the case in let's say Europe.

According to [this Guardian article](https://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/sep/05/third-europe...), a very large number of folks in Europe suffer as well. Less are treated, however.

* The study referenced also includes neurological disorders, so we do need to be careful with the article's interpretation.

Remember that getting medication doesn't necessarily mean that there's actually something wrong with you when prescribing medications has a positive effect on your doctor's income.

Indeed, the number seems disproportionate. But it can be possible depending on the definition of "medication".

I'd expect the number of mental health issues with an underlying [known] physiological nature (say, bipolar, schizophrenia), and thus mediated with the proper treatment to be _very_ low.

Mental health issues resulting from workspace, work, stress and in general lifestyle issues can still be medicated to help recovery, though the proper solution would obviously be a change in lifestyle.

I've witnessed many people with depression. I can only speak for relatives for which I know the full story. When faced with the issue, at least here, you have two choices. The psychologist will talk you into a lifestyle change whenever possible.

Going to a psychologist is still considered medication here, and it's covered by national health. When going to a psychiatrist instead, the medication (chemical) is almost always guaranteed.

It's helpful to say though that no amount of medication fixes mental health issues related to workplace issues if the underlying cause is not removed. This is a very dramatic issue, as for some people with limited working experience (and thus unable to have a leverage), it's often insurmountable. I known relatives in this situation for 20+ years.

Did some more research. According to the EU [1] 27.4% of the population suffered from a mental disorder in the past year. It would not surprise me to hear that two-thirds or so of those were medicated, though I haven't actually found any numbers.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/health/archive/ph_determinants/life_styl...

It's one thing taking a day off for mental health, but what if the job itself is contributing to said mental health problem?

For example being bullied or having unreasonable expectations with some kind of negative reinforcement loop.

Certainly doesn't sound like the case at the company in the article. But that CEO sounds exceptional.

We also need to address treating employees as humans not workproduct producing AWS instances.

Well, mental health has always been and will continue to be an issue that needs to be addressed in the workplace. This is because the workplace now is at least half composed of programming related tasks. Programming is such a mentally tasking task due to the need to get everything just right to get your computer to do what you want with it, that the fallout from it could be compared to a hangover. Your mental faculties do get tired by the process of programming leaving you in the lurch when you step outside that mental zone, and making you susceptible to attacks on issues unrelated to programming, that many managers and other people that don't exercise their mental faculties enough tend to indulge in. As a programmer, it's just as important to learn what to do outside of your programming related tasks, specially ways to relax and rejuvenate your mental faculties. If you don't do this, you'll burn yourself out leaving you susceptible to mental disease.

I agree with what you are saying. I am having trouble finding tasks that rejuvenate my mental facilities. What works for you?

Exercise. Cooking. Sketching. Paying attention to grooming. Practicing ignoring people as much as possbile in public. Reducing the amount of information I process outside of programming. --> Not using a smartphone. Using public transport. Minimizing internet use, no social media. Walking as much as possible to help slow things down. Consciously taking breaks from mental work, instead of just getting absorbed in a programming task. The equivalent of interval training. its possible to strengthen your ability to focus while you program through interval training. Observing nature, such as bird-watching, wind conditions, cloud formations etc.

While I think most companies need to do better at making this acceptable, and I'm in no way downplaying the importance of treating mental health like any other health issue...

One of the things I like about our unlimited/flexible vacation policy is that I don't have to justify time off and can take it at short notice. I think there's quite a spectrum from "vacation for an event", through "vacation to relax" to "time off for burnout" and finally to "sick days for mental health" – I don't think there are clear cut lines between some of these. I tend to take relatively short notice days off to relax and recharge after stressful periods, and while I call it a vacation day, it's probably much closer to this. Unlimited vacation policies get a lot of criticism, but I see this as a big benefit.

Sure if people like you you can get away with even a month of being 'sick' but its really depends on the person.

At a company i worked there was a guy who did that. He got away with it but he was a very senior programmer.

If i tried this i would have to worry about them using it as grounds for a firing.

My grandfather taught me well: one should never, ever talk about their health unless it's good.

At least as long as we live in a society that is always pushing competition as a primary virtue, you may be right.

And a woman's place is in the home, no doubt.

What do people do when they take a couple days off for mental health? I love the idea, but have no idea what I'd do.

It'll depend on the issue. Maybe see a counselor, talk to a friend, get into nature or hide in bed.

Find something that lets you relax and de-stress.

For me, it's video games. A good video game relaxes me like nothing else. Of course, that depends on there being a good video game that I haven't already played out.

Books can also do it for me, to a lesser extent. I also have other hobbies, mostly involving creating things like papercraft or models, that will help de-stress me.

The worst is when I spend too much time playing games and start to feel guilty about not doing other things. It's a downward spiral because the thing that relaxes me is now causing me additional stress.

The real solution is, of course, to find the real stress and reduce it directly. That's not always possible, but there's usually something that can be done.

People who recognize they are having a mental health issue and are working on getting better are often not really the problem. We all wish them better.

What is a problem are people mental issues creating trouble for others. It can get compounded by bosses looking the other way as results are coming in so there is no problem. Except the costs were externalized to the team around them.

Very nice article, thanks for sharing! It reminded me of this one, written by my coworker Tyler: https://medium.com/smells-like-team-spirit/teamwork-and-ment...

I have trouble understanding this. You work in an organization, they have goals, priorities. You have a role and responsibility. Since when was it a company responsibility to take care of your mental well-being? If you need some time off to work on it, shouldn't you just take some time off? Am I missing something?

I don't think it's likely that a day will come, at least in our lifetimes, where workplaces are free from mental health issues. Yes, that would be great, but it's about as realistic as having colds and flus not be an issue in the workplace. These things are not going away in our lifetimes.

Even people on the Enterprise had mental health issues, I think it's part of being human.

I'd actually go further and predict mental health will continue to be an issue, even outside the workplace.

I'm not even certain a just, enlightened society would require people with mental disorders to work in an office!

My cousin worked at European owned bank that had "mental health days". I liked that term because it sounded more proactive than reactive. They were viewed as a way to take care of your mind and reduce stress. You could use them for baseball games or just relaxing at home.

>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.

Heh. If you're a contractor in a lot of places you don't get sick time or days off either - you get to put a direct dollar cost on "taking a day off".

I found it interesting that the article mentioned their product so much.

But, if this is genuinely how they treat mental health; they deserve all the free marketing they may get.

I think taking downtime is good. I sort of wonder if actually affect my mental health by not working though.

We have too many people with mental health issues in general. You would think it should be a societal goal.

Isn't it always the primary issue?

Your mind is localized to your brain. Your brain is apart of your body.


first off, good for madalyn, it takes too much courage to introduce specifics regarding any kind of sick time and mental health is especially burdensome.

now, moving on to the rest of the post: of course it's still an issue. taking sick time for any reason is still an issue. everyone feels the pressure to not be sick, to not take sick time, and to work while sick. i have never worked for any organization where this was not the case-- even in some good places that were good to their workers-- and have only escaped it by working for myself.

>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.

you see, mental health is more of a threat than "physical" health. you get better from having a cold. you sniffle through a few days of work, maybe take a day at home, then sniffle through another day or two, and the lost productivity stops.

the spectre of mental health is that it is a long term sap on an employee's productivity that will also have flare-ups which result in time taken off, total work stoppage, malingering, unreliability, and bad morale. and it can't really be "cured" just treated. it's the profit seeking organization's nightmare. they'd never hire someone mentally ill, if they could reliably avoid being sued for their discrimination.

>It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to offer paid sick leave.

only in the blisteringly backwards and proudly ignorant USA is it controversial. we are far behind the rest of the world when it comes to labor rights and treating people like human beings.

elsewhere the issue is settled definitively. to be blunt the CEOs haven't done their part in fighting for this basic right, nor has the government, nor have the workers. everyone has too much to lose by being the one to push, so nobody pushes.

>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.

the difference is that an athlete ages out of being competitive after a time, and so their profit-driven self-infliction of injury ends earlier.

workers are stressed by work for most of their lives, for most of the hours of their waking day. work is far more detrimental to people's brains than being an athlete is to the body.

oh yeah, and workers can't choose when to stop, unless they want to choose to stop eating too. to be blunt there's no way that american workers could possibly operate at peak mental performance with their mental scaffolding so occupied with maintaining job security. this causes mental illness too, of course.

name a bigger stressor for people than their jobs / money.

>Take some time this week to express gratitude to individuals on your team. You might be surprised at the positive impact.

this is a bare minimum, not part of any solution.

the real solution (which won't be implemented because it is expensive) is to have an iron law in your corporation that your employees must take X paid sick days per year or per month. it's that simple.

then it won't be an issue, because it'll be a policy that people are forced to follow. there's no guilt about taking sick days for any health reason at that point. nobody feels like they're being dead weight when they take a sick day.

>Take some time to reflect on how your company’s values help create a safe-space for your teammates 

this is more likely to be lip service or self-deception at most companies than it is a reality. most companies value profit, and act accordingly when that value contradicts the health of their employees because their employees are replaceable.

>1 in 6 of whom is likely medicated for a mental health issue.

this should tell us that our society is violently unhealthy for our minds, as is our work culture.

and they are.

Not sure why you're being downvoted, thought you had some great points.

As someone who has struggled with mental health myself in the past, I'm kind of wary of the whole "let's reduce depression down to how we would treat a broken arm." argument. While it's good intentioned, and I totally agree we need to reduce its stigma in society, I wonder if it does more harm then good in the long run.

Depression is a disease of the soul, and I think it is so deeply embedded in the human experience that we can't just compare it to a physical ailment. I agree you shouldn't define yourself by a mental illness, but it no doubt deeply affects how you perceive and think about the world, sometimes for worse, but also in my experience, for the better. Good employers take this into account, although i think it happens more on a employee-manager relationship level than through organizational rules. But culture helps a lot.

I think we should broach the topic of depression as a society with deep care, empathy, and patience, recognizing how enormous and fundamental it is to the human experience. To compare it to a physical ailment is restrictive and a bit reductive. (If you can't tell, I think the biochemical causes of depression are a bit overemphasized in today's society.) We will be less frustrated at the lack of progress if we understand the enormity and complexity of the problem.

>(If you can't tell, I think the biochemical causes of depression are a bit overemphasized in today's society.)

this is actually "necessary" in the sense that it prevents discussion of other equally substantive depression-causing things such as a precarious lifestyle contingent upon retaining paid employment.

put differently: depression is multifactorial, but the medical consensus is that it's connected to anxiety. and anxiety, while also biochemical and genetic, is in large part caused by external factors.

but if we admit that external factors cause anxiety and thereby depression, we admit that the very jobs we're afraid to take time off from to tend to our depression are in fact causing us to be depressed in the first place. and for the american culture, this reality cannot be voiced-- it's antithetical to capitalism as we practice it.

finally: talking about mental illness at work is a surefire way to find yourself unemployed or longlisted for a promotion. this adds an additional level of furtiveness to those who are already mentally ill, which makes their issues worse.

whether or not someone has a genetic predisposition to mental illness or not-- and many likely do-- a good work culture can make things either a bit easier, or much harder.

While progress might be slow, I still believe that more humanistic values can exist within a capitalist institution, because at the end of the day, a corporation is just another human endeavor.

> Not sure why you're being downvoted

Probably because of the toxic tone.

Huh really, didn't get that vibe but okay.

if you don't fear negativity it can't hurt you

I also came back to say that I was unsure why you were being downvoted. I think you made some good points in the first half of the post. It's probably the tone of the writing.

There is definitely a stigma around mental illness.

In Sweden there is a law on the national level - "the vacation law" that governs the minimum amount of vacation an employee can have in a year. See https://www.riksdagen.se/sv/dokument-lagar/dokument/svensk-f... (Sorry, I couldn't find an English translation).

It's a bit like your suggestion only with "sick days" replaced with "vacation days" and "corporation" replaced with "country". You mentioned that the US was far behind the rest of the world in labor rights. This law was issued in 1977. ;-)

That is amazing. How did it come into effect? If I run for office in the US with the slogan, "Give Me a Break," do you think I would have a chance?

You've hit the nail on the head with these points. I'd just like to add that another reason mental health is taboo is because of the way we relate to others. Whereas a physical issue is seen as a temporary and non-fundamental change to a person, mental issues are perceived to change the individual itself in a fundamental level (no matter how true that would be or how temporary the issue might be).

We are very likely to say that a person has "changed" if we uncover information that affects how we perceive their trustworthiness (for instance, being caught lying) as opposed to other types of behavior. Mental illness is similarly believed to affect the core of an individual's nature.

While I agree with the author's argument, stating the current year does not advance it. Seriously, it's even a meme.

Can someone please explain to me what is special with 2017?

I would say it's common to use the phrase "It's <current_year> and..." when describing something that one finds appalling in modern society.

But how about "It's 2017 and 1+1 is still 2?"?

The message is quite different.

I read your comment as saying essentially "ok, it's business as usual, and hasn't yet changed", i.e., acknowledging a fact, and possibly acknowledging that it's likely to continue in the future (which is true).

I read their message as saying the same as you say, but also stating a value judgment - i.e. that it should be considered weird that hasn't changed, that it should have been changed ages ago (definitely before 2017), and that it should be considered unacceptable if it continues in the future. Which is quite a different story about the same facts, and this part of the story is efficiently implied by the short prefix "It's 2017 but..".

It's a way to signal incredulity with something being an issue which you think shouldn't still be an issue.


Tread carefully readers. This article is pretty benign but ED is decidedly NSFW.

Worse than that, it seem to be alt-right drivel ("jewconomy" on another page) as well as trying to open tabs/pop-up window and run apps on my iPad.

I think they are just disappointed that things hadn't improved by now.

In the UK we have the Equality Act 2010 to protect people with mental illness at work; we have several large scale anti-stigma campaigns (EG Time to Change, or the Blue Light worker stuff); it's common to find mental health covered by occupational health schemes.

With all of this some people still find it tricky to disclose their mental ill health to their employers.

People have an expectation that everything is going to magically improve as time goes on without realizing that with some things they need to be the change that they want to see in the world.

It's a meme that John Oliver popularized, and people like to use it as an argument, when it's just a shitty strawman.

Considering how effective it is in persuasion, "shitty" is probably not an entirely accurate adjective.

Donald Trump memes were also very effective in persuasion for certain parts of the Internet this past presidential election.

You are correct.

Not understanding satire is a sign of autism.

Honestly, kind of sounds like the work she does may be the reason for the mental health issues. Maybe find a job that doesn't depress the shit out of you? I know, easier said than done.


Seriously, I wish this bullshit meme strawman would die.

Shouldn't vacation days be used to help your mental health? If vacation days are not enough, there might be a more serious problem ...

If you're getting ready for work in the morning and you're suddenly hit with an overwhelming panic attack and you feel afraid to leave your house, that doesn't leave much time to request the day off to use for vacation.

Most people will judge you if you call in and say "I am experiencing extreme anxiety this morning and I'm afraid of leaving the house, so I won't be coming in today." So instead you shoot your coworkers/boss an email or a text that says "Hey, I'm not feeling well today. I don't want to get you guys sick!" Because that makes you seem caring and thoughtful instead of a weak coward who can't handle the stress of real life.

Even people with "serious problems" have to pay the bills.

*Edit: I just realized that when you said there might be a more serious problem you might have meant that the employer is not offering enough vacation days. If that is what you meant, then I'm sorry for unfairly maligning you with my last line.

No. When I said "serious problem" I meant the patient. Yes, people need to pay bills, but it is not your employer's responsibility.


I have started a remote work week business that allows office teams to work together in a tranquil, nature-filled rural environment for a week and get away from the hustle and bustle of urban cities. The response has been really good. Reach out to me: topconsultant@gmail.com

So a remote work office that you rent? Also, that email alone screams questionable to me.

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