When software developer Madalyn Parker emailed her co-workers to say that she would miss a couple days of work to focus on her mental health, her tech firm’s CEO responded to thank her for her transparency and openness.
Parker tweeted the reply from her boss, Ben Congleton, which has since gone viral and sparked a national conversation about the reluctance of employers to recognize mental illness has a valid reason to stay home from work.
Parker has revealed that she suffers from chronic anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder on Twitter and said she sometimes requires time off from work to cope with symptoms.
In a tweet last month she wrote, “Too distracted by my health (anxious, depressed, injured) to be effective at work. Too worried about my work to be effective at self care.”
So she sent her colleagues an email explaining why she would be absent from work for a few days.
I’m taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%,” she wrote.
Among the replies to her email was one from Congleton, the CEO of Olark, a life-chat software developer, which read, “Hey Madalyn, 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 organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Many who read Parker’s post said they weren’t as lucky to have an understanding boss.
“Wow, I wish! I needed a medical health stay once. Upon my return, my boss told me not to let it happen again or my job would be gone,” someone commented on her post.
“I took a mental health afternoon at my last job and got passive aggressive documentation about the mental health coverage in our health plan,” wrote another Twitter user.
“How I WISH!!! I had a boss who LITERALLY told me he was going to fire me for having depression because it was ‘inconvenient,’” another wrote.
Parkers’s email — and subsequent post — had been retweeted more than 14,000 times and garnered more than 42,000 likes as of Thursday. It even earned her recognition from Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg.
“This is wonderful. Thankful to Madalyn for being so open — it’s not an easy thing to do. Her CEO Ben showed such compassion and is a great example of why we need more leaders who encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work,” Sandberg wrote on Facebook.
Congleton said he was surprised that so many had been moved to share negative experiences dealing with their mental health in the workplace.
“I sort of felt like this was just something that should be normal,” he told MONEY. “It’s just business as usual for us. This is not something new.”
One in five American adults is affected by mental illness, according a report published by the American Psychiatric Association.
Eighty percent of employees treated for mental illness showed improved levels of efficiency and satisfaction at work, according to the report.
Congleton addressed the aftermath of the incident in a Medium post.
“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.”