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Breaking the Stigma Around Taking a Mental Health Day Off Work

It’s time to change the company culture

by Sah D'Simone

November 14, 2018


Before my life as a meditation teacher and wellness coach, I considered my calling working in the fashion industry. At the height of my career, I was co-founder & creative director of an international fashion magazine, creating a vision for celebrities featured in the print issue as well as overseeing the creative for the online platform. I built something big and people applauded me for it. They applauded my determination to be bold.

To an outsider, I seemed like I was on top of the world: a highly successful individual who had carved out my own path in an industry I was deeply passionate about. However, on the inside, I was dark and ridden with anxiety.

The pressure I put on myself started from a very young age. I grew up in an upper/middle class family and was conditioned to think that having a big house, going to Disneyland, and wearing expensive clothes was the pathway to happiness. I measured my self-worth by how much money I had, how many things I had. I always wanted to be more than I was.

On top of these distorted ideas of what would make me happy, I operated in an extremely volatile industry notorious for a deep and unhealthy culture of parties, booze and drugs.


Not knowing I had a mental illness as a result of my unhealthy lifestyle, I still showed up at the office — even in the face of severe anxiety and depression — because no one said otherwise. No one was talking about mental health, let alone saying that it was okay to slow down and take care of myself emotionally and holistically.

I had a mental breakdown at 26 years old when I was bought out of the company I co-founded. This betrayal was the catalyst for me to stop and and slow down. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here today.

I am not alone in my experience: According to Thrive NYC, at least one in five adult New Yorkers is likely to experience a mental health disorder in any given year, and in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 17 percent of adults are functioning at “optimal mental health.”

Did we let our personal ambitions and ideas of success drive us to this reality or is it something cultural? Regardless of the cause — social pressure, burnout, depression — there are millions of people suffering and a social stigma that still exists around the topic of mental health. And that stigma often comes to life in the workplace, where we spend up to ⅓ of the entire lives.

At work is where we feel a certain pressure to be ‘together’ and not show our weakness, or humanness and absolutely not our mental health. We are taught to check our emotions at the door, and not bring “home life” to “work life,” however this compartmentalization goes against the grain of what humans are: whole ecosystems. We feel what we feel when we feel it. When something difficult is happening in our personal life, it affects every aspect of ourselves, work life included. Only recently have certain companies like Google and Havas started to understand this, promoting emotional intelligence and holistic living as the grounds for a healthy work environment.

How many days in your career have you felt sadness, grief, depression or anxiety to the point that you weren’t able to get out of bed, let alone go into the office and be present in a meeting? Likely, you still showed up because you do a good job at pretending to be okay, but working while sick is known to lead to mental and physical exhaustion. A recent World Health Organization study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

We need to establish a preventive system at work. You don’t need to feel fear, guilt or ashamed of feeling down or low; your mental illness doesn’t define who you are! One particular study found that after only three weeks of mental health treatment, the number of employees suffering from a diagnosable mental illness decreased by 50 percent.

Treatment can be a solution. Another study found that employees who completed at least one session with a mental health provider reported decreased absenteeism and a significant improvement in both productivity and overall mental health.


Here are some ideas you can do in order to change the social stigma around mental health, and create a supportive workspace:

    1. Hire a full time counselor, or give access to an online service where you can speak to mental health professionals.
    2. Team building activities, human connection is essential for mental health
    3. Mindfulness, meditation, yoga at the office: this helps to build emotional resilience, and a better relationship with oneself.
    4. Financial literacy workshops: empowering your staff to make smart decisions with their money helps to build self-esteem and self-worth.
    5. Train the leadership staff that mental illness is not a bad thing, and nothing to be made fun of or—worst—avoided. If the leaders know how to acknowledge and have conversations about mental health, staff will feel supported to get treatment.

I have come so far in personal healing journey, and it’s an ongoing process still, and together in community we can heal.

The Assemblage is a proud partner of the Movember Foundation, which raises money and awareness to a difference for men’s health – in prostate cancer, testicular cancer, suicide prevention, and mental health. We’re offering a special Movember hotel package at The Assemblage John Street, as well as 20% off new Assembly and House memberships when a tour is booked with the code MOVEMBER. Learn more here.


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