| ‘I’m taking a mental health day’

We use sick leave when we’re too sick to come into the office – flu, stomach bug or migraine. We use annual leave when we need a holiday to recharge.

But what about a mental health day? Should we take one (or more)? And would our boss understand what it means? 

Taking a mental health day

Madalyn Parker, a web developer in the USA, recently sent out shockwaves when she took a mental health day and tweeted her CEO’s response.

She sent an email to her team explaining that she was taking two days off “to focus on my mental health”.

The CEO’s response surprised her. 

“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 organisations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work,” replied CEO Ben Congleton. 

Parker shared the exchange on social media and it was shared and retweeted thousands of times. 

Breaking the stigma

“I wasn’t expecting the exposure, but I am so glad I was able to have such a positive impact on so many people. There were so many stories of people wishing they worked at a place where their CEO cared about their health, and so many people congratulating me on doing such a good thing,” Congleton said. 

Congleton shared his views on mental health in the workplace in a post he published on Medium: “It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health [sic].

“It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to offer paid sick leave. Did you know that only 73% of full time employees in the US have paid sick leave?

“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.”

Putting mental health in the spotlight

Parker says: “I struggle with illness. Just as the flu would prevent me from completing my work, so do my depression and anxiety.” 

Dr Ali Hamdulay wrote in an article for SADAG that unfortunately employees still choose to suffer from their mental illness in silence, fearing stigma if they speak about it. Employers, on the other hand, avoid asking too many questions, hoping mental health disorders will go away on their own. 

If you suffer from a mental illness, you are under no legal obligation to disclose it. Labour lawyer Peter Strasheim previously told Health24: “A mental illness is often not apparent and not readily visible. Many employees choose to keep their diagnosis private and confidential.” 

However, being open with your line manager can help them understand your situation. 

Share your story

Would you – or have you – taken a mental health day and disclosed this to your boss? Please let us know (you can remain anonymous). Email Mandy Freeman and share your story. 

Read more: 

Should you tell your boss about your mental illness?

Can you take mental health days? What the law says

#LetsTalk about depression | Noisy bedrooms can make men infertile

Men, take note: A quiet bedroom might make for strong, healthy sperm.

South Korean researchers found that men who slept where the noise level routinely exceeded that of a suburban neighbourhood had worse fertility than men who rested in quieter quarters.

The study, by Kyoung-Bok Min and Jin-Young Min, was published in the journal Environmental Pollution.

Protective feature

“I think any sort of stressor can contribute to infertility… and I would say bedroom noise can be a chronic stressor in sleep,” said Dr James Nodler. He’s a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at Houston Methodist Hospital.

“It’s basically a protective feature by our bodies – if we’re under severe stress, now is not the time to reproduce,” added Nodler, who wasn’t involved in the new research.

About 15% of American couples are unable to conceive after a year of unprotected sex, according to the US National Institutes of Health. Factors contributing to infertility in either sex are wide-ranging; in men, they include problems with sperm concentration, movement or shape.

About 15% of South African couples experience fertility problems.

A previous Health24 article added decreasing processed-meat consumption, stopping smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption and losing weight to the list of recommendations to optimise male fertility outcomes.  

A recent study in mice suggested that men might also face low testosterone levels and low sperm counts after Zika infection, affecting their fertility.

A similar association in women

In the research, scientists from Seoul National University analysed health insurance data on more than 206 000 men aged 20 to 59. Noise exposure levels were calculated by combining men’s residential location (using postal codes) and information from a national noise information system.

In the eight years covered by the data, about 3 300 of the men had an infertility diagnosis. After adjusting the data for factors such as age, income, smoking and body mass index (BMI), the researchers found men were 14% more likely to be diagnosed with infertility if exposed to nighttime noise over 55 decibels. That’s equivalent to the noise generated by an air conditioner or a suburban street.

Earlier research found a similar association in women, with noise levels linked to an increased risk for premature birth, miscarriage and birth defects, the study authors noted.

Nodler explained that chronic noise in the bedroom may disrupt the release of a hormone known as GnRH (gonadotropin-releasing hormone) in the brain, which triggers the release of other hormones important to fertility.

“This is biologically plausible to me,” Nodler said. “If you disrupt GnRH, that throws the whole balance of fertility out of whack, both for men and women.”

Good ‘sleep hygiene’ measures

Another US fertility expert cautioned that the new research doesn’t establish a cause-and-effect relationship between noisy bedrooms and male infertility.

“It is possible that excessive exposure to high decibels is somehow associated with worsened semen [quality], but the study does not necessarily prove that prolonged noise exposure causes infertility,” said Dr Jennifer Kawwass. She’s medical director of IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and third party reproduction at Emory Reproductive Center in Atlanta.

To determine the exact biological reason for the link, Nodler said future research should measure hormone levels in men with noisier bedrooms compared to men with quieter bedrooms.

Nodler recommended that men concerned about their fertility keep noise levels down in the bedroom as well as practice good “sleep hygiene” measures. These include avoiding TV or any other screen time while in bed, he said.

“It’s an interesting topic to think about, that just reducing bedroom noise [may enhance] fertility,” Nodler added. “It’s definitely biologically plausible and – for anyone – having less bedroom noise is better for general health and fertility.”

Read more:

Male fertility genes discovered

Antidepros reduce male fertility

Scientists identify chemicals that damage sperm 

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