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Need A Mental Health Day? Here's How To Ask For One

It's time out for us feeling like we have to be a superwoman every day, and suppressing our feelings.

Workin' Girl

Can I be honest real quick? I'm sick and tired of society holding a "superwoman" complex on women of color (especially Black women). While yes, we are multifaceted, strong, and fearless, we also experience moments of vulnerability, confusion, and anxiety. Because of the superwoman complex that the world has placed upon on us, sometimes it makes it difficult for us to ask for what we need, because a "superwoman" doesn't need help, right?

Wrong.

Oftentimes as the minority in the office and in spaces where men (and people that don't look like us) are the majority, we never want to appear weak or inadequate - especially when we are in positions of power. However, it's time out for us feeling like we have to be a superwoman every day, and suppressing our feelings. Sis, when you're really strong, courageous, and fearless, you understand the power in being honest and asking for what you want and need. And sometimes the exact thing that you need is a personal day off for the sake of your sanity and mental state. It doesn't matter how high up the corporate ladder you are, or how lit your job title is, we all need a break (or two or three), and that's OK. It's normal, sis.

Recently, we spoke with several fearless women that are leaders in their own space. Here are their thoughts on how you can communicate when you're not at 100%, how you can ask for a mental health day, and if you're in a leadership role, how they've communicated and asked for their own mental health day when needed.

How To Ask For A Mental Health Day Off From Work

For Employees: Asking For A Mental Health Day Off From Work 

Duanecia Evans, Chief of Staff for Teach For America DC Region

Photo by Kenny Bundy

"One thing that has worked for me and people I manage is building an intentional space for me to talk about not only how projects are progressing, but how energized or drained they are with specific pieces of work. When it comes to having your needs at work met, take the driver's seat.

"Normalize talking about how projects, tasks, and even teammates who are landing with you. If you have a weekly or bi-weekly check-in with your manager, add a section that supports you talking about what's on your plate and how you're feeling about it. So often we get caught up in the 'doing'.

"Some practical prompts that you can include to keep things constructive include:

  • This week, (example) about this project energized me, but (example) about this project drained me.
  • I enjoy working with (teammate) but would like to roleplay a difficult conversation I have to have with them about (problem that came up), can we make some time for this?"

Christa Clarke, Project Manager at Baylor College of Medicine

Courtesy of Christa Clarke

"If my direct report needs to request a mental health day or two, I don't require much. I prefer to receive advance notice so that I can adjust my responsibilities accordingly and minimize the impact of their absence. Also, I appreciate them getting their house in order beforehand. For example, reschedule your meetings in advance, block your calendar, delegate important or time-sensitive tasks to others, etc.

"However, I understand advance notice isn't always possible. We don't give advance notice for physical illness! I don't need all the specific details of why. When I have a general understanding of what is going on, how it's been impacting your work, and ways I can support you, I'm empowered to be a better boss who can effectively support you before and after your return."

Jasmine Farrar, HR Business Partner, Manager at Netflix

Courtesy of Jasmine Farrar

"In my experience as an HR Business Partner, there is often an underlying assumption that we are not to be leveraged as trusted advisors for employees at all levels; however, this couldn't be the furthest from the truth. HR Business Partners (HRBPs) are stewards of company culture, liaisons between organizational leadership and individual contributors, and advocates for all employees.

"I prefer that employees feel comfortable coming to me about any issues that may arise and that I present myself as accessible and approachable to help foster that dialogue."

For Managers: Asking For A Mental Health Day Off From Work 

Duanecia Evans, Chief of Staff for Teach For America DC Region

Photo by Kenny Bundy

"As a Senior leader, it is often hard to feel like taking some time for self won't lead to more work when I return. Recently, I learned the power of a vacation memo.

"Ahead of asking for some mental health days, I prepare a vacation memo that I send to my manager, people I am on projects with and sometimes external partners. The memo gives those I'm working with a clear sense of the status of projects and who they can contact while I am away. I brief my assistant and manager on the memo, as they are typically the points of contact while I'm out, and then I go ahead and take my time off.

"The vacation memo strategy not only supports clarity of workflow but also eases my anxiety so I can fully unplug. I recognize that I am a key player in the work, there is no way for me to continue to be if I am not well."

Christa Clarke, Project Manager at Baylor College of Medicine

Courtesy of Christa Clarke

"I am an advocate for mental wellness in the workplace. I meditate in my office, often placing a sign on my door that reads, 'Meditation in progress. Do not disturb.' I've also requested mental health days when needed. Unfortunately, no matter how much I'm an advocate for mental health in the workplace, many of us may not be lucky to have bosses or work at a company that is open to the idea of mental health days. Therefore, it is important to understand the workplace culture in which you work before asking for a mental health day.

"At a previous company, I didn't believe requesting a mental health day would be respected. On days where I just couldn't bring myself to get out of bed, I'd just call in sick. No detailed explanation was given. It is our right to be able to use our sick days without probing questions. So, don't be afraid to do so.

"In another workplace, I maintained a great, transparent relationship with my boss. We openly discussed our stressors and mental state, and have even left the workplace for mental health breaks to grab an ice cream or a treat. When I need to request a mental health day, I simply make sure my workhouse is in order. I inform my boss that I need to take a day or two to work on my mental wellness.

"Sometimes, my mental health day is working remote to change my environment. Other times, I am unplugging."

Jasmine Farrar, HR Business Partner, Manager at Netflix

Courtesy of Jasmine Farrar

"With respect to mental health in the workplace, it's so important to understand that we cannot operate at our fullest capacity if we aren't taking care of ourselves from an emotional, spiritual, and physiological standpoint. We usually don't hesitate to share when we are sick or in need of time off to attend to a doctor's appointment. These types of conversations should extend to mental fitness as well. Company cultures may differ in terms of the level of transparency or candor amongst managers and employees but the concept of needing a mental health day should not be foreign.

"When I think of all the things that are going on in the world around us, especially with respect to people of color, we owe it to ourselves to ensure that we are continuously engaging in self-care practices.

"My best advice for employees and leaders are to work on building authentic relationships so that when conversations like these arise, they feel more natural. Leaders, check-in with your employees from time to time and move beyond status updates and project deliverables in one-on-one meetings. It's OK to ask how folks are doing. How can I help support you? Many times, the work environment is predicated upon the leadership style and they should help to model and reinforce the importance of overall well-being."

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Featured image by Shutterstock

Originally published November 20, 2019

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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