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Michigan Woman Sparks National Conversation on Mental Health

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Mental health advocates have applauded Parker for explicitly stating her mental-health needs. (via Twitter)
Mental health advocates have applauded Parker for explicitly stating her mental-health needs. (via Twitter)
July 25, 2017

LANSING, Mich. – When Ann Arbor resident Madalyn Parker emailed her team she'd be taking time off work to focus on her mental health, she never imagined the head of her company would thank her or that it would spark a much larger discussion about mental health in the workplace.

Parker's email and the subsequent response from the CEO was retweeted more than 15,000 times and made national headlines.

Kevin Fischer, the executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or "NAMI" Michigan, says while the conversation is critical, it also shows how far we have to go in removing the stigma associated with mental illness.

"It's like it's a weakness, not a medical diagnosis like heart disease or hypertension or cancer," he says. "So for an employer or a business owner to acknowledge this, I think that's exceptional."

Mental illness affects one-in-five Americans, which NAMI estimates costs the U.S. economy close to $200 billion each year in lost work productivity.

Fischer says if you find yourself frequently feeling overwhelmed at work, disengaged, or unable to take pleasure in the things you usually enjoy, it could be time for a mental-health day or to speak with a professional.

While the debate over the future of the Affordable Care Act and funding for mental-health programs deeply concerns Fischer, he does feel the cultural conversation is moving in the right direction, and that it could eventually shift the societal understanding of mental illness.

"It's not going to come from the government, it's not going to come unfortunately even from your primary-care physician," he adds. "So I'm happy that we're moving forward; we're just not moving forward fast enough."

He also adds that while this employer was exceptionally understanding, many people, especially lower-wage workers, simply don't have any sick days to take. A study last year found that 44 percent of Michigan workers cannot take time off with pay when they or one of their family members are ill.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI