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Mental Health Secrets

Despite all the hate that Cosmo magazine receives for its trashy articles and ridiculous sex tips, I have to admit that it’s always been a favorite guilty pleasure of mine. Sure, some things they suggest are a bit out there, but in recent years Cosmo has started publishing more articles on things like health, careers, and world issues. After reading through the September issue, however, I’m a little dismayed at a a piece of “advice” they printed.

In a career-focused article about how to “Stay Cool When Life’s a Mess”, one issue discussed was what to do if you have an eating disorder or addiction and need to get treatment for it:

Don’t tell your boss. If your workplace offers an anonymous wellness program, use it. If you need to go into treatment, say that you’re going on vacation.”

As someone who has recently had to come clean to her boss about having an eating disorder and needing some time off to get professional help, my first thought was how ridiculous this suggestion was. How much time does the average workplace allow as vacation time? As a relatively new employee, I’m guessing two weeks would be the longest period of time I’d be given in one chunk. And that’s not gonna cut it for “fixing” the issue.

I’ve been dealing with an eating disorder for over ten years, and I’m about three months into the recovery journey. Psychologists, dietitians, and group therapy are all part of the process, but so is time. I still have a long way to go before I’ll consider myself all better. Two weeks is definitely not enough to take care of an eating disorder, and to suggest that you could pass off entering treatment as a vacation is laughable.

After rolling my eyes at the impracticality of Cosmo’s advice, I gave it more thought, and actually became really annoyed. In past Cosmo articles, and in today’s society in general, it’s been a goal to raise awareness and stop the stereotypes about mental illness. But by saying that an eating disorder is something to keep hidden, they’re really just perpetuating the stigma attached to it. Mental illness is real, and it’s definitely not a thing to be ashamed, or secretive, of.

I’ll get criticized for using the cancer comparison, but the facts of the matter are there: both cancers and eating disorders can kill. But how people perceive them, and treat the two issues, are totally different and unfair. A person diagnosed with cancer and having to undergo chemo would never be told to lie to their boss about needing to go get help. In just about all situations, it would be completely understood that they needed medical help, so they’d be off work in order to receive it. So why is it okay to tell an anorexic to cover up their health concerns with the ruse of “going on vacation”? In both cases, medical treatment is necessary, and there really shouldn’t be a reason to keep secrets or disguise the issue.

In my experience, I’ve been open and honest with everyone I know about having an eating disorder and finally seeking treatment for it. And so far I’ve been met with nothing but compassion and encouragement to get better. Even at my job, it’s been no issue to get time off in order to attend appointments and therapy, and everyone knows what’s going on. So I’m very disappointed in Cosmo’s advice to do the opposite and keep quiet.

What do you think; should it be the norm to keep mental illness under wraps in the workplace?

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