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How To Get Mental Health Leave Without Jeopardizing Your Job

Sophia Surrett  |  June 21, 2022

6 solutions for how you can get the time and space you need to take care of your mental health, without having to put your career on hold.

If your mental health has been draining you lately, it’s okay to take a step back from anything that’s been negatively impacting your energy —  including work. It might not seem feasible to take off work for a mental health break, but not only is it feasible, it’s sometimes necessary. We know mental health is something that must be prioritized, so YES, if you’re struggling, it’s time to talk to your boss or HR. And contrary to popular belief — 30% of employees worry they could be fired or lose a promotion if they take a mental health break — asking for the help you need doesn’t mean negative consequences. Here’s how to get the help you need, ASAP. 

Prepare And Practice 

Having nervous jitters before going to talk to anyone of higher authority in your workplace is completely normal. In fact, more than half of employees say they feel uncomfortable talking to their employers about mental health according to a recent study by HR and payroll company Paychex. To try and combat those anxious thoughts, plan what you want to say to make sure you’re able to ask for everything you need. Making a list ensures you won’t leave any of the most important nuggets behind. (Think of it kind of like asking for a raise — you want a roadmap for the conversation.) 

Dig A Little 

Before talking to your boss or HR, make sure you understand what you qualify for with the benefits you have from your job. Go back through the paperwork that you were given when you were hired, or check out your organization’s online HR portal and navigate through the health section until you find mental health. Ideally, you’ll find something clearly spelled out for you in terms of what you qualify for, and where you should turn first. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are one of the most common ways employers offer free confidential counseling, referrals, follow-up services, assessments and more. EAP is set up through your company, so if you can’t find details on your online portal, your HR department will know more about your specific model and policy — just ask. 

You may also want to see what you qualify for in terms of short-term disability, which, depending on your policy, allows you to continue to receive income during a short-term leave from illness or injury. Some employers even offer short-term mental health disability leave (MHDL) that can range from one to six months. The pay depends on the disability provider who is the communicator between you and your employer. Also, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is another option; it is a federal act, meaning it is mandatory for all employers that are eligible, but keep in mind that it’s an unpaid leave that simply protects your job, so if you want to keep earning while you’re on leave, you may want to exhaust your other options first. 

Get A Doctor’s Note

This might sound like you’re in elementary school again, but getting a doctor’s note is still considered proof of leave for a medical condition or illness. Dr. Monica Vermani, Clinical Psychologist and author of A Deeper Wellness, recommends this as she has written many notes for patients over the years that can help them feel supported and get the support they need. A doctor’s note can be from your family doctor, a psychiatrist, nurse practitioner, just like a physical illness. 

Speak To Your Therapist

Asking your therapist to role-play with you, help you craft emails and create bulleted lists are all things that can help before you ask for mental health leave. Therapists can also give you a self-esteem boost via their unwavering support, and can help talk you through each of the possible outcomes of the conversation. If money is tight, BetterHelp offers low-cost private therapy that is directed towards your specific need(s) such as depression, stress, self-esteem, anxiety, grief and more. For hotlines where you can be connected with free or low-cost care options, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has compiled a list of hotlines for disaster distress, suicide prevention, domestic violence, trans lifeline, and more. 

Talking With Your Boss

Take a deep breath and let your boss know that you would like to speak to them privately. This is the first step, says Katarena Arger, AMFT and primary therapist at Alter Health Group. She suggests being as transparent as possible, but that doesn’t mean giving more details than you are comfortable with. She said most employers will be supportive, as they want happy and healthy employees. After your conversation, your boss will likely turn to HR to see what you qualify for, ang et back to you. If you find that your boss isn’t being supportive or isn’t willing to kick your request up the chain, then you should be prepared to go directly to HR or to another supervisor at your firm. Vermani suggests getting your requests in writing, so your requests for mental health assistance are documented. 

Time To Visit HR

If talking to your boss is inconclusive, your company’s HR department is your best next step. They are there to support employees, and one of their jobs is to address concerns such as mental health leave. Even so, per the Paychex study, just 5% of employees said they spoke with an HR representative about their mental health decline. HR is a resource for you; don’t be afraid to use it! 

P.S. If you’re reading this article, you’re putting yourself first, and we’re so proud of you. If you’re having a mental health emergency, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255

If you’re looking for more ways to set boundaries and decompress, we’ve got some here. 

Lastly, we love the 8-Hour Work/Play/Sleep schedule. It’s 8 hours of work, 8 hours of play, then 8 hours of sleep. It so simple, yet thinking of breaking your day down into thirds can  help you prioritize your time and realize that while working is a part of your life, it’s not your whole life. (And likewise, we may love our friends, but we can’t compromise sleep for a night out.) Putting yourself first is always the first step in becoming a happier person. You got this. 

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