Being Brave Enough to Ask for a Mental Health Day
It goes without saying, but without mental healthcare, we can’t really be healthy. There is a stigma that still exists in black communities where talking about mental health is unacceptable due to the need for generations of black people to suppress their feelings and take on the “superhero” persona, to frankly, make sure we survived to see another day. Oftentimes, in the black community, if you did talk about your mental health, you were characterized as fragile, or vulnerable, or weak, or feminine.
The black community has made discussing mental health a de-masculating experience which has caused significant amounts of continued trauma in our lives.
Only about 25 percent of black adults seek healthcare, according to the National Alliance on Mental Healthcare, and while businesses now have to offer professional mental health services as a part of an employee’s health insurance benefit, taking off of work to seek that care can be burdensome for people with limited sick, vacation, and PTO days. And, that doesn’t even include minimum wage, blue collar, or part-time earners, or even the limits insurance companies often place on what is actually covered as a part of an employee’s mental health benefit package.
What is often unaccounted for by businesses is trauma and feelings involving the social climate in our community and world. For black people, and particularly black women, the racism, bigotry, misogyny, and systemic discrimination we deal with in social settings continues to add suffering and trauma to our lives. Every day when another black life is lost to excessive police violence, or there are white supremacists rallies happening right in our backyard, or members of our community are murdered in their place of worship, it reminds us that we are daily targets to racism, bigotry, homophobia, and discrimination.
Unfortunately, unless you are fortunate enough to work in a progressive space, or your employer offers mental health days for you as a part of your benefit package with the company, asking for a mental health day can be a traumatizing experience for black and brown people. Particularly, if your supervisors are not black or brown and you have to go through the motions of explaining why you need the time off, which in turn, can ultimately re-traumatize you.
And, let’s be honest: On days like after what happened in Charlottesville, Va.,—when a white-supremacist group rallied carrying torches, machine guns, machetes, and actually ran over a counter-protest because of their disgusting hate for non-white people—you honestly just are not up to feeling, or talking to white people, or anyone who may not share your experience as a black or brown person. Having those difficult conversations is okay, until that difficult conversation re-traumatizes you, and makes you realize that your white co-worker is cool, but they’re still white, and you’re still a target when you’re out on the street and they’re not.
The only person who can take care of yourself is you, and that means, you have to be brave enough to tell your employer that you need mental health days so you can continue to be a positive and productive member of your team. In his speeches, Les Brown often quotes this African proverb: “If there is no enemy within, then the enemy outside can do us no harm.” Not only should we be allotted sick days and vacation days, but we absolutely need mental health days so we can rest and renew our spirits in order to be our best selves, a.k.a., “fuck it up, fuck it up.”
Joel Daniels wrote for the Huffington Post, “Mental health care days matter. They matter because there are things that do not fit neatly in a box; you do NOT fit neatly in a box.”
We don’t fit neatly into boxes, and we’re not supposed to, which means employers should offer their employees the flexibility to not fit in that box, and take care of themselves the best way they can by supporting their ability to do it emotionally and financially.