The idea of calling off work for being sick can be frustrating since it’s often frowned upon, or even not permitted, in our current work culture. Likewise, when we think "sick", we initially consider physical ailments such as colds or injuries. However, taking mental health leave may not even be an option based on your employer and circumstances.
However, it has been fortunate to see progress in mental health conversations in the workplace, and policies are evolving in that direction. While taking time off of work due to depression and anxiety can feel difficult, it is not impossible if you keep the following in mind.
You and your employer will both benefit from attending therapy.
In the US, nearly half of all adults will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their life. In turn, that can impact the workforce. When mental health concerns of your family are taken into consideration, you can see why workers may need a break. The therapy appointment may only require a few hours of your time. However, you may be forced to take weeks or months off from work when a loved one goes through a mental health crisis.
Some legitimate reasons for taking time off work for mental health include:
To deal with an emotional issue, you have weekly therapy sessions
Due to the side effects of your antidepressant, you need to lie down
You're anxious due to a domestic conflict and need some time to recover
It took you a while to regain your composure after your last work project went south
A fire alarm is going off, and it's rendering you PTSD
There are several tests your child's psychiatrist suggests because of acting out
As you help your mom move into a medically-supervised dementia care facility
There is a group therapy workshop coming up that your doctor recommends you attend
It’s fortunate that many mental health leave requests are covered by workplace and labor laws intended to help those with mental illness. Being aware of your rights and the different programs available that allow you (legally) to request mental health time off is essential for you as an employee.
What is the best way to request time off for therapy?
Just like any other recurring medical appointment, you'd ask for the time.
It isn't necessary to elaborate on the reason for the appointment, just as you wouldn't need to specify that the appointment is for Crohn's or chemotherapy. You can say something like, "I have a recurring weekly appointment with my doctor in the next few months. Since it's so late in the day, I need to leave at 4 every Wednesday afternoon to make it. Can I come in early on Wednesdays so my work is not interfered with?”
You may be asked what's going on by your boss. There's a possibility that your boss is just being overly curious, but they might also be trying to help. Regardless, you aren't required to share information if you don't want to. Say, “I’ll be fine. There is just something I need to address.”
Alternatively, you can also go to human resources as an alternative if you believe that your boss would not be open to therapy appointments. HR is generally a trustworthy department. Inform them you need to see a doctor but you don't want this broadcast across the entire workplace.
Identify the level of disclosure you are comfortable providing.
Many of us prefer to keep our mental health needs a secret, but this isn't the right approach for everyone. It is certainly your right to maintain your privacy if you are concerned that this information may be used against you.
Despite this, it's important to determine whether your secrecy stems from self-consciousness or from a deliberate strategy. Often, managers are keen to get information that will enable them to better understand and support their employees.
For example, the fact that you have anxiety, for instance, can help put some of the challenges you have faced recently in the context in a way that may help your manager understand that there hasn't been a lack of effort on your part, rather there is a problem you are working on.
Make sure you are considering what your true needs are.
Don't dismiss an idea because it appears impossible. Do not let preconceived notions of what's "appropriate" prevent you from acknowledging what's most beneficial for you. As such, take time to write what your needs are and how they can be addressed.
Don't rule out the possibility of seeing a specialist who only has a lunchtime appointment available for you if you need to see him or her weekly. Do not just push through because it's a "bad" time of year in your department, but you need to take four weeks of FMLA to participate in an eating disorder program.
Does everyone assume that I am in therapy if I have a weekly appointment?
At the same time, a number of other possibilities exist, such as allergy shots or physical therapy. Nonetheless, it's not shameful for people to perceive it as therapy. It's not their business whether they know or not -- just like they aren't entitled to know about other medical issues. But, overall, it shouldn't matter whether people assume.
Know your rights.
In a similar way to taking time for a physical issue, federal laws protect the time you need to take for your mental health or the mental health of a family member. Many large employers offer sick leave benefits. Further, most don't require you to state the exact reason you need time off, just that it was a "health issue."
In spite of this, because there isn't a federal law requiring your employer to pay for sick time or mental health leave, you might want to put a bit of a cushion between you and your employer.
As such, you request time off in different ways depending on what kind of time you want off:
Sick Leave. As many companies offer sick leave, you must read your company's leave policy so you know how many paid days off you're entitled to and how to request time off. With your employer's permission, you may be able to take unpaid sick leave if your firm doesn't offer paid sick leave.
PTO. A few companies offer employees the option of combining their sick leave and vacation time into one bucket that they can use however they please, whether it's a mental health day or a day at the beach. Usually, there is no more than a day's notice needed to request time off in firms like that. It's rare for the company to care about the reason for your absence.
Disability Leave. Psychiatric disorders and mental disabilities are covered under the family and medical leave laws, just as is time off for back surgery or pregnancy. A formal disability leave policy is common at companies with more than 50 employees. Employee handbooks often outline the process of requesting leave.
FMLA Leave. An FMLA request form needs to be completed by your employer if you intend to take time off from work under the FMLA. Depending on your company, you may be able to find these forms in your employee handbook, your online HR software, or you may have to request them from your manager or HR representative.
You should not stay in a position that doesn't support your mental wellness. If your efforts are not yielding results, you should think carefully about whether you want and can stay in your current role or if it’s time to explore other alternatives.