How to pursue a mental health leave of absence
It's estimated that mental illness affected over 20% of adults in the United States in 2019. However, of those adults, less than 45% received mental health services. If you're suffering from a condition that's making it difficult for you to keep up with your professional responsibilities, it's important that you seek help. A mental health leave of absence is one of many resources that might be available to you. Taking time off work as needed can help you reach your full potential when you are on the job.
What is a mental health leave of absence?
A mental health leave of absence is a period of time that you may take off work due to mental illness. Mental illnesses are not uncommon, and there are many protections in place that can help you deal with them safely without losing your employment. Depending upon your employer and individual job situation, a leave of absence may be one option that’s available to you.
This is not the same as a vacation or personal time off, though you might be able to use these options along with or as an alternative to a leave of absence. It’s important to understand what’s available to you and how you can make the best use of these accommodations.
How to take a mental health leave of absence
A leave of absence for depression and anxiety can prove very useful if you’re struggling with a condition that gets in the way of your job. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the trials of everyday life, you’re not alone. You may have the opportunity to take medical leave for mental health to help you handle a mental illness. Learn where to start and how to use this time.
- Speak with a mental health care provider.
- Determine your FMLA eligibility.
- Meet with the human resource department.
- Finalize plans with your healthcare provider.
- Return the appropriate paperwork to your employer.
- Specify how you will take your leave.
- Develop a plan for taking care of your mental health.
1. Speak with a mental health care provider
If you feel like you’re in need of a mental health leave of absence, the first thing you should do is speak with a mental health care provider. A licensed professional can help diagnose your condition and provide actionable advice on the best way to move forward. You will need documentation from your health care provider to get an FMLA-approved medical leave of absence for depression. Speak with your healthcare provider to determine whether they would support this type of leave. This generally depends upon whether you meet the criteria for a mental health disorder diagnosis.
Even if your doctor doesn’t diagnose you with an official mental health disorder, they can still help you find a way to deal with what you’re feeling. If you’re seeking a leave of absence due to your mental health, you’re likely struggling with some form of stress, anxiety, or depression. A mental health care provider can give you resources and recommendations that may include medication and counseling.
If you’re not approved for a medical leave of absence for your mental health, you may still have options. Those without a medical diagnosis can skip step two and proceed to step three to learn more about how to proceed.
2. Determine your FMLA eligibility
Those eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may have protection for their leave of absence. To qualify for FMLA, you must:
- Work for a company with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of your workplace.
- Have at least one year of employment with your company.
- Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months.
If you’re eligible for FMLA, your employer must provide you with leave under certain conditions. FMLA leave is not paid, but you will continue to receive health benefits during your absence. FMLA covers up to 12 weeks of approved medical leave a year.
You do not have to take all 12 weeks of leave consecutively. You can use some of the leave now and save some for later. You may also use your leave daily or weekly to work shorter hours in the day or fewer days per week. However, your doctor must recommend the best plan of action for your condition and complete the appropriate paperwork for an FMLA-approved leave of absence.
3. Meet with the human resource department
Once you’re equipped with the appropriate information, you should make an appointment to speak with someone in the human resource department. This individual can help you understand all the available options with your employer. Every workplace is different, so it’s crucial that you speak with your HR department to get a thorough understanding of how to take a leave of absence for your mental health.
Some questions that you may want to ask include:
- Can you get medical leave for depression?
- What types of leave are available in my benefits package?
- How much paid vacation time do I have?
- How do you handle a leave of absence?
- Can I apply paid time off to an FMLA-approved leave?
- Do you offer flexible scheduling?
- What mental health resources are available through the company?
If you’re not eligible for an FMLA-approved mental health leave of absence from work, you may find that you can work out another alternative through HR. Perhaps you can take a sabbatical instead of a leave of absence for mental health. If your employer offers flexible scheduling, you may find that you can work part-time from home as a way to alleviate your stress and anxiety. Some companies offer personal leave that you can use for a variety of purposes, including your mental health.
It’s important to be honest about your needs so you can take full advantage of any accommodations that are available to you. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against you for a mental health issue. The ADA provides coverage for a variety of conditions including major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and bipolar disorder.
4. Finalize plans with your healthcare provider
Once you know what your employer can accommodate, you should meet with your healthcare provider again to finalize your plan moving forward. If you’re using FMLA-approved leave, your doctor will need to fill out the appropriate paperwork. If you’re taking a different type of leave of absence due to depression or mental illness, you should work with your mental health care provider to decide how you can best use these accommodations to support your mental health.
Keep in mind that the primary goal is to improve your mental health such that you can return to your normal duties. Working with both your employer and a mental health care provider, you should be able to find a plan that will make it as easy as possible for you to get back on track.
5. Return the appropriate paperwork to your employer
Provide your employer with the necessary paperwork for your leave of absence. As noted previously, this may include FMLA forms completed by your healthcare provider. You may also need to provide additional documents, such as a leave of absence letter.
As you’re preparing to take sick leave for stress and depression, you should also consider other paperwork that will be helpful in your absence. You may want to pass key contacts, files, or other information along to those who will be temporarily filling your role. You should not participate in meetings, communicate frequently with the office, or otherwise work from home during your leave. Take the time to prepare everyone before you leave so you don’t have to deal with additional stress regarding unfinished projects while you’re away.
6. Specify how you will take your leave
Clarify with your employer exactly how and when you’ll take your leave. Keep in mind that you may have the option of taking one or two days of leave each week rather than taking a large chunk of time away.
7. Develop a plan for taking care of your mental health
It’s important to make good use of your leave of absence for mental health. Ideally, you will use this time to develop healthy habits and cultivate effective coping mechanisms that will help you protect and maintain your mental health going forward. If you’re taking a block of time off work, you may want to consider returning with a modified schedule that includes a shortened workweek or shorter hours. You might also explore other tools that will help you manage your mental health, such as taking regular breaks for meditation, working from home, or talking to your supervisor about modified responsibilities.
You should not treat a mental health leave of absence like a vacation. This is a dedicated period of time to focus on your health and wellness. Make the most of what’s available to you so you can maximize your potential at work when you return.
If you’re struggling with mental illness, speak to your employer and a mental health care provider to determine the best plan of action. Some companies do offer more flexibility for leave than others. Explore companies in your industry if you’re looking for a better fit for your needs.