How To Take Time Off From Work For Your Mental Health (2022)

In the spring of 2018, my mental and physical health had deteriorated to a point where I felt unable to function. I wasn’t just dealing with a cold or a bad few weeks. Stress had ravaged my mind and body, creating a snowball effect that led to mental health problems including a panic disorder, major depression and generalized anxiety. And all of that contributed to flare-ups of chronic illness and a completely compromised immune system. So, I took a medical disability leave and it changed my life.

Many people in corporate environments don’t know about this option, despite the fact that depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. I didn’t. There’s a huge stigma when it comes to addressing mental health in the workplace. There’s a valid fear of facing repercussions or discrimination at your job based on your mental health status.

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But as more people reach breaking points, they may not have another option. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, the number of workers taking mental health leave appeared to be on the rise, according to Angella Lugioyo, a human resources executive and expert in California. Lugioyo said she has seen an uptick in mental health disability cases in recent years, with most of it being “stress and anxiety related.”

Stacy Cohen, a double board-certified psychiatrist at The Moment in Los Angeles, has seen this with clients in the clinical setting as well. “In the past few years, I’ve had a vast increase in the number of patients pursuing medical disability leave for more general mental health issues, with work-related stress being a major contributing factor,” she said.

And the need for leave may only increase: Experts predict mental health issues ― and the need to address them ― will continue to rise as the year goes on. The stresses of COVID-19, police brutality and racism are combining to produce a unique mental health crisis. Texts to one federal emergency hotline increased by 1,000% in April 2020 (over April 2019), and prescriptions for anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication have risen by roughly 10%.

Mental and emotional distress can have dangerous consequences if not addressed properly. That makes it’s more important than ever to take care of yourself ― especially if you have the resources to do so.

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Here’s how to determine if you need mental health leave, what type of leave to take, how to obtain leave and how to make the most of your recovery time.

How To Take Time Off From Work For Your Mental Health (1)

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(Video) Can I Take Time Off From Work? | Kati Morton

Should You Take Leave?

The decision of whether to take a leave of absence is ultimately a personal choice that you have to sort through. This likely should be done with the help of a therapist or physician since you’ll need them if you do decide to go on leave (more on that in a moment).

But first of all, don’t feel wrong or bad for considering it.

“I would 100% advise anyone who might not be in the healthiest place — and they know they need help with their mental health — to take time away from work,” said Nina Westbrook, a psychotherapist and keynote speaker.

Unfortunately, this is not now an option for everybody. “There are those who don’t have the opportunity to take time off work ― particularly single-parent households or people who work for a business that doesn’t provide that type of support,” Westbrook said.

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That’s why there need to be more mental health resources available, Westbrook added, both in the workplace and outside it.

If you are in a position to potentially take time off, one initial assessment should be whether you’re facing work burnout or a medical condition that’s affecting your ability to perform on the job.

W. Nate Upshaw, a board-certified psychiatrist and medical director at NeuroSpa TMS, explained that when work-specific burnout is the problem, there might be ways to fix that without taking a leave. For example, he said, “Can they talk with their boss? Can they transfer to a different department? Is there a way they can change either the situation or their perspective?”

Upshaw added that although “burnout is considered a legitimate justification for medical leave in some countries,” that’s not how it works in the United States. Yet burnout, if left unchecked, “can lead to symptoms that do qualify as a medical condition such as an anxiety disorder, or mood disorder such as depression,” he said.

“I always emphasize to people this is not a moral failing. This is a medical issue that can get better.”

- W. Nate Upshaw, a board-certified psychiatrist

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Symptoms that may be signs of a mental health condition include panic attacks, chronic rumination or worry, overwhelming sadness or anger, changes in sleep, changes in appetite and mood swings.

“If you’re stressed and anxious at work and begin to also feel stressed and anxious at home, then you may be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder,” Upshaw said. “If you’re spending the majority of your time focusing on your mental health and you’re not getting better, it’s time to consider taking a medical leave. I always emphasize to people this is not a moral failing. This is a medical issue that can get better.”

What Types Of Leave Are Available?

There are several types of leave, depending on where you live and work.

(Video) How to take mental health leave from work

“The U.S., unfortunately, makes leave of absence confusing, as each state is unique,” Lugioyo said.

On top of what your state requires, your employer may provide an additional program or means of support. “Some companies may have additional leave an employee can leverage as part of the benefit package,” she said. This might include sabbaticals or vacation time.

Start with the nationwide leave option provided under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which, among other things, allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work for serious medical conditions, all while maintaining health benefits (so you keep your work-provided health insurance).

The main qualifiers are that you must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and at least 1,250 hours, and that you must work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

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The FMLA entitles you to unpaid leave regardless of which state you work in. California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington state, and Washington, D.C., have paid programs as well, so you can receive at least a portion of your pay while on leave. If you’re on unpaid leave in any of the other states, you may be able to collect unemployment benefits, although this is not required under federal law.

From there, look into whether your leave would be covered by short-term or long-term disability insurance, which may be provided by your employer. This is usually the point where things become a logistical nightmare in most companies.

“Some workplaces have great HR departments and have learned how to streamline the process. Some are not experienced at it, and the paperwork and process can be a headache,” Cohen said.

Ask the human resources office about your options. They can outline if you have a company leave policy, if you should go forward under the FMLA or if there’s another route you can take, Lugioyo said.

Has Any of This Changed With COVID-19?

According to Lugioyo, it’s not supposed to change. If it’s still business as usual with your company, they should be able to provide you with information on leave options and how best to take care of your mental health.

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“Regardless of where our country and world is — pandemic or otherwise — an organization should be thoughtful and recognize the current employee experience,” Lugioyo said. “This should result in proactive communications from the leadership team, with an acknowledgment of the current climate and organizational resources that could support employees and their families, including employee assistance programs and disability information.”

“Regardless of where our country and world is — pandemic or otherwise — an organization should be thoughtful and recognize the current employee experience.”

(Video) Tips on Taking Time Off for Mental Health

- Angella Lugioyo, a human resources executive

Lugioyo urged those in management positions to make sure they’re providing this level of care for their workers.

“Employees need transparent communication and trust that their organization is well-informed about the current social climate and how it could potentially impact their employees,” she said.

How Do You Get Started On Taking Leave?

There are a few steps you must take if you think you need a medical leave from your job.

First, see a mental health care provider if you haven’t already.

If you’re feeling like you’re more than just a little off, it’s time to confer with a mental health specialist, said Juan Santos, a licensed professional counselor and certified rehabilitation counselor in Greensboro, North Carolina.

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Santos said that your doctor will typically administer tests (which, in my case, were sometimes as simple as filling out a form) or ask questions to evaluate the severity of your condition. “The questions the clinician asks can be connected to work, ability to complete activities of daily living, and overall functioning of the person,” he noted.

They may also dig a bit deeper into your family history and your past medical history. From there, Santos said, the clinician will evaluate if you meet the criteria for an official mental health disorder diagnosis. They’ll also help you manage the condition on an ongoing basis.

Figure out how much time you may need off.

Only you and your doctor know your case well. Some people may just need a few weeks; some may need the full three months offered under the FMLA.

Upshaw offered one example: “I met with a patient who came in experiencing burnout and found that underlying depression was the source of his issue. We completed the FMLA paperwork for him, he began receiving [treatment], and he was better and able to go back to work in a few weeks.”

(Note that if you still don’t feel fit to return to work at the end of your leave, you may be let go from your job or you may choose to resign. At that point, some states will allow you to collect unemployment as you’ve left work for medical reasons.)

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Finally, meet with your HR department about those leave options.

This process will vary from state to state, but HR should be equipped to explain your specific options and any particular landmines to avoid. “Always inquire about the state and company paid options,” Lugioyo said.

(Video) Workplace Mental Health - all you need to know (for now) | Tom Oxley | TEDxNorwichED

With the help of the HR team, you’ll fill out forms — sometimes a lot of forms — get a doctor’s sign-off, send the forms into the state and eventually take your leave. Then, it’s up to you and your health care team to focus on your healing.

How To Take Time Off From Work For Your Mental Health (2)

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What Should You Do During Your Time Off?

Melinda Ring, executive director of Northwestern Medicine’s Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, suggests creating a plan to make sure you get the most out of your leave.

“I recommend setting up a daily and weekly schedule of goals and appointments to help someone keep on track without getting overwhelmed, and also identify a support team that includes both health professionals and a personal network,” Ring said.

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This may be somewhat easier during a time of social distancing and quarantine, since you may have fewer distractions from outside obligations and more time to focus on you-time and healing.

Your plan should include healthy lifestyle habits, like eating regular meals, exercising and seeing a mental health professional consistently. Keep in mind that this isn’t a vacation; it’s a necessary time for you to prioritize your well-being and make radical changes in order to get better.

Cohen said that sometimes “patients will struggle with wishing they did something cool or interesting during this time, when they really need rest and therapeutic activities like yoga, psychotherapy, journaling and sleep.”

Whatever you do, don’t let outside opinions ― or sometimes even your own ― undermine your commitment to getting your mental health back on track.

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(Video) Your Mental Health at Work

FAQs

How do you tell your boss you're struggling mentally and need time off? ›

Here's what he said you should do if you find yourself in this situation.
  1. Remember it's no different to reporting a physical health problem. ...
  2. Write down what you're feeling. ...
  3. Focus on your productivity and ability to do your job. ...
  4. It's up to you how much you want to disclose. ...
  5. Don't sweat about the so-called stigma.
27 Sept 2018

Can you stay off work for mental health? ›

This is when employees take leave from work due to poor mental health. This absence right must be provided and treated just like a physical illness. There are many disorders which sit under mental health sickness. Some of the most common ones include work-related stress, anxiety, and depression.

How do you say you are having a mental health day? ›

You don't have to tell a whole story to your boss to justify why you need a mental health day. You can simply say, “Hey I need a mental health day. Do you mind if I take today off?

How do I explain stress leaving my job? ›

It's starting to impact my health, and as such, I must tender my resignation. As you know, this is an extremely high-stress environment. Despite my very best efforts, I am not able to continue with this degree of elevated anxiety any longer. As such, I'm giving you my two weeks notice.

How do I get time off work for stress and anxiety? ›

Go to your Human Resources department and let them know you would like to take an FMLA-approved absence for stress leave. They will provide you with the necessary paperwork that you must take to your doctor.

Can you be fired for missing work due to mental illness? ›

After an ADA amendment passed in 2009, it is now illegal for an employer to fire an employee if: They have mental or physical impairments that substantially limit at least one major life activity. They have a history of a disability.

What are my mental health rights at work? ›

Employers cannot discriminate against any employee (or candidate) with a mental health illness that classifies as a disability. Employers must carry out a risk assessment for stress at work, and take action based on their findings.

How do you explain mental health to an employer? ›

Be clear about the impact your mental health challenges are having at work. If the cause is work-related, share that also. As much as possible, come with suggestions for how your manager or HR can help you. Have ideas about what changes or resources you'd find beneficial.

How do you tell your boss you're struggling? ›

If you know what you'd like to request from your boss to ease your workload, you can say something like: "I've been struggling with a lot of stress and anxiety and would like to request some changes to my schedule or time-off, etc." "Be as honest and as candid as you can be.

What to Do When You Can't work because of anxiety? ›

As a rule it is best to receive treatment from a mental health professional. Typically, these include a psychiatrist or psychologist. You may need to see a specialist to help prove that you can't work due to anxiety and depression.

What do you say when you call in sick for mental health? ›

Keep It Simple

Dr. Cyrus recommends keeping it short: "'I'm not feeling well today and would like to call in sick' — because feeling emotionally sick counts. Or, 'I'm unable to come in due to personal reasons.

How do I tell my boss I need mental health leave? ›

Talking about your mental health doesn't need to be scary or over-complicated, you can start the conversation by simply saying, “I need to get something off my chest” or “I need to talk, do you have time to listen?” Just remember to tell your boss only what is necessary.

How do I tell my boss I need a mental health day? ›

Simply saying you have to deal with a personal matter should do the trick. However, if you're comfortable telling your supervisor or HR department why you're taking the day off, you can! It helps to plan what you would like to say to your supervisor beforehand, so you are clear about what you're asking.

What does burnout feel like? ›

Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you're drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.

What do I tell my doctor to get stress leave? ›

Below are some key points to remember when talking to your doctor about stress leave:
  1. Be open about your symptoms.
  2. Be upfront about your feelings. Don't leave out any details.
  3. Listen to your doctor's advice.
  4. If needed, book follow-up appointments.
  5. Explain your situation clearly and what you feel triggers your predicament.
13 Apr 2022

What is a toxic work environment? ›

What is a toxic work environment? A toxic work environment is one where negative behaviors—such as manipulation, bullying, yelling, and so on—are so intrinsic to the culture of the organization that a lack of productivity, a lack of trust, high stress levels, infighting, and discrimination become the norm.

Is burnout a good reason to quit? ›

Burnout takes good people out of the environment where they can make a big impact,” she says. “It's something that must be prevented, because when a person reaches this stage, they must quit what they are doing.” Here are five other reasons to quit your job.

How do I ask for time off for personal reasons? ›

7 ways to ask for time off just the right way
  1. Choose your time wisely. ...
  2. Be specific and give relevant details. ...
  3. Get caught up with all of your work. ...
  4. Be fair with the rest of your team. ...
  5. Make sure you ask, not tell. ...
  6. Offer to help plan for when you're away. ...
  7. Request your time in writing.
10 Feb 2022

How do I ask for stress leave? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor for your symptoms. Tell him or her about any changes in your sleep, diet or mental state. If these are stemming from factors in the workplace, your doctor may prescribe stress leave for a few days.

Can you miss work due to anxiety? ›

Anxiety, stress, or depression leave from work may require multiple days off, which is where FMLA may come in handy. This may be enough time to seek more intensive treatment if needed or time to relax and seek support. However, if you are thinking “can I get a sick note for anxiety”, the answer is yes.

What do you do if you can't work due to mental illness? ›

If you have experienced employment discrimination because of your mental health condition, you can file an administrative charge or complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state or local anti-discrimination agency.

What mental illness is considered a disability? ›

Mental illnesses that can be covered by Social Security disability include depression, anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and intellectual disability.

Can I be fired for being suicidal? ›

If you believe that your employer unjustly considered your mental health struggles or a previous suicide attempt when they made the decision to terminate you, you may have grounds for a discrimination claim against your employer, as firing you for a disabling medical condition is a violation of your right.

Do I have to tell my employer I have mental health issues? ›

You do not Have to Disclose

Your mental health is a part of your confidential medical records. And, more practically, if you are doing well at work, your company will never know. But, if you do not disclose, you will forfeit ADA protections. The ADA provides certain job protections.

What is the most common mental health problem? ›

Depression. The main symptoms are feeling 'low' and losing pleasure in things that were once enjoyable. These symptoms may be combined with others, such as feeling tearful, irritable or tired most of the time, changes in appetite, and problems with sleep, concentration and memory.

What are signs of a breakdown? ›

feel overwhelmed — unable to concentrate or make decisions. be moody — feeling low or depression; feeling burnt out; emotional outbursts of uncontrollable anger, fear, helplessness or crying. feel depersonalised — not feeling like themselves or feeling detached from situations.

How do you tell your boss you're overwhelmed? ›

How to tell your boss your work is overwhelming
  1. Schedule a meeting with your boss. ...
  2. Prepare what you are going to say. ...
  3. Provide specific examples. ...
  4. Focus on your work experience. ...
  5. Offer thoughtful solutions. ...
  6. Offer to help in smaller ways. ...
  7. Consider your goals. ...
  8. Remain calm.

How do you tell your boss you're having a nervous breakdown? ›

Lately, I've been experiencing stress and burnout and would like to request time off to manage my mental health.” “I've been struggling lately with personal stress. I know I've been distracted and unfocused at work as a result.

What should you not tell your boss? ›

Phrases to Never Say to Your Boss
  • “I Need a Raise.”
  • “I Can't Stand Working With ____.”
  • “It's Not My Fault.”
  • “But We've Always Done It This Way.”
  • “That's Not Part of My Job.”
  • “That's Above My Pay Grade.”
  • “I Have Too Much on My Plate.”
  • “I'm Bored.”

What is Burnout mental health? ›

What is burnout? Burnout can be difficult to describe. However, it's not a medical condition. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”

How do you tell your boss you don't have enough work? ›

The Diplomatic Approach

You could mention that you feel ready to take on new projects or that you want to help the company in new ways. Allude to the fact that you could use a heavier or more engrossing workload, but don't outright say you don't have enough to do or my company is not giving me work.

What is a good job for someone with anxiety? ›

Here are eight great job ideas for people with anxiety.
  • Fitness trainer / dietician. ...
  • Counselor / mental health worker. ...
  • Plumber / carpenter / electrician. ...
  • Lab technician. ...
  • Shelf stocker / warehouse worker. ...
  • Gardener / landscaper / florist. ...
  • Freelance writer / graphic designer.
25 Sept 2020

Should you tell your boss you have anxiety? ›

Remember, you're not legally required to tell your employer about your mental health condition, unless there's a risk to yourself or others.

Why does work give me so much anxiety? ›

The root cause of anxiety at work depends on the person. For some people, extra-long work hours, high stress, a lack of support from managers and co-workers, and related factors can lead to someone developing anxiety at work, Gruttadaro says.

Do you have to explain why you are calling in sick? ›

In general, employers are allowed to ask for the details of your illness. "Asking what is wrong requires the employee to give a brief and general explanation about why he or she is absent, e.g., the employee's child is sick, the employee has a general illness or the employee has a major or minor injury."

Can I call in sick with stress? ›

It's perfectly acceptable to call in sick for mental health reasons. What is this? Whilst it can be a difficult conversation to have with your workplace, they should be supportive of your illness and do all they can to aid your recovery. Taking time off for mental health should not be seen in a negative light.

How do you call out of work text? ›

"I'm not feeling well today and need to take the day off." "I'm not feeling well and need to use a sick day, but I'll be back at work tomorrow." "I started feeling ill last night and am not feeling any better today, so I need to take the day off." If you need several days off: "I have (the flu/a cold/etc.)

How do I ask for a mental health day off work? ›

Simply saying you have to deal with a personal matter should do the trick. However, if you're comfortable telling your supervisor or HR department why you're taking the day off, you can! It helps to plan what you would like to say to your supervisor beforehand, so you are clear about what you're asking.

How do I tell my boss I need mental health leave? ›

Talking about your mental health doesn't need to be scary or over-complicated, you can start the conversation by simply saying, “I need to get something off my chest” or “I need to talk, do you have time to listen?” Just remember to tell your boss only what is necessary.

How do I ask my boss for mental health leave? ›

How To Ask For Mental Health Leave
  1. Explain how your work is impacted. The purpose of asking for a mental health leave from work should be directly connected to your ability to perform the responsibilities of your gig. ...
  2. Listen and learn. ...
  3. Be creative and flexible. ...
  4. Advocate for yourself.
11 May 2022

Can you be fired for missing work due to mental illness? ›

After an ADA amendment passed in 2009, it is now illegal for an employer to fire an employee if: They have mental or physical impairments that substantially limit at least one major life activity. They have a history of a disability.

How do I ask for time off for personal reasons? ›

7 ways to ask for time off just the right way
  1. Choose your time wisely. ...
  2. Be specific and give relevant details. ...
  3. Get caught up with all of your work. ...
  4. Be fair with the rest of your team. ...
  5. Make sure you ask, not tell. ...
  6. Offer to help plan for when you're away. ...
  7. Request your time in writing.
10 Feb 2022

How do I ask for stress leave? ›

Make an appointment with your doctor for your symptoms. Tell him or her about any changes in your sleep, diet or mental state. If these are stemming from factors in the workplace, your doctor may prescribe stress leave for a few days.

What does burnout feel like? ›

Being burned out means feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation, and beyond caring. People experiencing burnout often don't see any hope of positive change in their situations. If excessive stress feels like you're drowning in responsibilities, burnout is a sense of being all dried up.

What are my mental health rights at work? ›

Employers cannot discriminate against any employee (or candidate) with a mental health illness that classifies as a disability. Employers must carry out a risk assessment for stress at work, and take action based on their findings.

What to Do When You Can't work because of anxiety? ›

As a rule it is best to receive treatment from a mental health professional. Typically, these include a psychiatrist or psychologist. You may need to see a specialist to help prove that you can't work due to anxiety and depression.

What to do if your job is affecting your mental health? ›

What to Do When Your Job Is Hurting Your Mental Health
  1. Know the ways that work can affect your mental health. ...
  2. Pinpoint exactly what is making your mental health worse. ...
  3. Change your perspective on your career. ...
  4. Consider consulting HR or your manager. ...
  5. Know the careers where mental health issues are common. ...
  6. A final note.
8 Apr 2021

What do you say when you call in sick for mental health? ›

Cyrus recommends keeping it short: "'I'm not feeling well today and would like to call in sick' — because feeling emotionally sick counts. Or, 'I'm unable to come in due to personal reasons. '"

Can I be fired for missing work due to anxiety? ›

The Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA) protects employees from discrimination based on a disability—including mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

Is anxiety a disability for work? ›

Key Takeaways. If anxiety is severely restricting a life function, it may be considered a disability protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You can request accommodations such as a flexible schedule, support animal, or special rest area to help manage your anxiety.

What mental illness is considered a disability? ›

Mental illnesses that can be covered by Social Security disability include depression, anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, and intellectual disability.

Videos

1. I Took Three Months off My Corporate Job | sabbatical leave, taking a break, my mental health
(Naomi Ng)
2. Returning from a Mental Health Leave
(Psych Hub)
3. Columbia Psychiatry's Dr. Erin Engle Talks About the Mental Health Benefits of Taking Time Off Work
(Columbia Psychiatry)
4. Can I get a leave of absence from work?
(ISBAlawyer)
5. I'm Scared to Return to Work After Depression | This Morning
(This Morning)
6. How can employers deal with mental health sick leave?
(Slater and Gordon Lawyers (UK))

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