How to Take a Leave of Absence for Your Mental Health

How take a leave of absence for your mental health

Mental health is just as important as physical health, yet in the workforce, it hardly gets the same attention. According to a 2023 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), only 15% of those surveyed reported that their workplace had company-wide policies for mental health days. However, when the US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being reports that 76% of US workers report experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health disorder, something has to change.

Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act provides some degree of protected leave from work for eligible employees who need medical treatment. Certain treatments for mental health conditions may allow you to take an extended leave of absence.

Requesting Leave: What Is The Process?

Before you can request FMLA, you need to confirm you qualify for it. Eligible employees:

  • Have worked at least 12 months for their employer.
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months before leave is requested.
  • Work for a company with at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius.

Once those qualifying factors are met, an individual may request a leave of absence under FMLA for serious mental health conditions. In this case, that’s defined as a condition that either requires inpatient care or continuing treatment by a health care provider. These may include chronic conditions that cause you to become incapacitated and require treatment at least two times per year or that require conditions that leave you unable to work for more than three days in a row and require ongoing treatment for approval.

If you qualify under FMLA for a serious mental health condition that prevents you from working, you may be able to take up to 12 weeks of protected leave.

Requesting FMLA leave begins with speaking to your employer. If you know about needing to take time off in advance, you should submit at least a 30-day notice. However, when you need a leave for mental health care, you might not always have enough time. If you have less than 30 days’ notice between discovering you need a leave and the leave itself, contact your employer immediately. Try reviewing sample FMLA for mental health request emails to get a feel for what you should send.

You don’t have to ask specifically for FMLA on your first request for leave, but it’s generally advisable to let them know that you’re seeking time for a condition that could possibly qualify for it. Once you disclose this, your employer has five business days to inform you on whether you qualify for FMLA leave.

After receiving your notification, your employer must outline your FMLA rights and responsibilities. You don’t have to disclose your diagnosis to your employer, but they may request certification stating that you require a leave of absence due to an FMLA-protected condition. If they do, you must provide the completed documentation within 15 calendar (not business) days. If you’re working with a therapist or other mental health care provider, they may be able to provide a mental health letter for work that protects your confidentiality while also confirming that you qualify for leave.

Within five days, your employer must inform you of whether your leave is designated as FMLA. If it is, your leave is considered FMLA-protected and your employer must reserve your job for you or put you in a similar position upon your return.

What if FMLA Leave Is Denied?

If your FMLA leave is denied, there are still other accommodations you can seek that could help you take some time off for your mental health treatment, including:

  • ADA Accommodations: Some mental illness diagnoses may allow for accommodations under the American Disabilities Act. While typically, the ADA doesn’t offer leave for work and instead emphasizes setting you up for success in the workplace, you may be able to get helpful accommodations like extended breaks or the ability to work from home.
  • Short-Term Disability: Some employers offer short-term disability as a benefit, which allows you to continue to be paid a percentage of your income while recovering from a disability. However, some companies may have restrictions around using this benefit for mental health purposes.
  • Vacation Time: If you’d rather not get into details about your mental health with your employer, consider using up any vacation time you’ve accrued. As a benefit, you’ll still receive your usual wages while resting, recharging, and seeking any necessary treatment.

Self-Care Tips to Improve Mental Wellness While On Leave

Of course, mental health leaves of absence are never a vacation. They’re an important time to focus on yourself and your recovery, just as you would focus on your physical health if you were recovering from an injury or illness. That makes your leave the perfect time to emphasize mental wellness through self-care. Implementing the following strategies can help you make the most of your mental leave of absence:

  • Follow All Advice Given By Your Team: Your mental health team is as invested in your mental wellness as your doctors are about your physical health. If your team has given you a plan for treatment, such as attending therapy on set days, taking medications, or using stress-reduction techniques, follow their orders.
  • Take Time to Rediscover Yourself: If you’ve felt burnt out from the stress of working, find yourself again. Try engaging in some of your favorite hobbies that you haven’t had time for or spend some time talking to friends and family you haven’t seen in a while.
  • Take Care of Yourself Physically: Now is the perfect time for a healthy self-care routine. Fit in exercise, a healthy diet, and sleep. As you give your body what it needs, you might find yourself feeling better. Cut out processed foods, get at least eight hours of sleep per night, and try to exercise at least twenty minutes per day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.
  • Think About Your Boundaries: Sometimes, it’s hard to say “no” when someone asks something of you, even if you don’t want to do it. Unfortunately, this can leave you susceptible to being taken advantage of and stretched far too thin. Take some time to reflect on your boundaries and how to ensure you don’t wind up with too much on your plate. Reducing your workload can help you avoid burnout.
  • Think About Your Job: Workplace stress is a real factor to consider in your journey to mental wellness. If your place of employment is causing you significant stress, it can lead to burnout, which results in reduced mental wellness. If your workplace is not good for your mental health, it may be wise to consider seeking employment elsewhere instead.
  • Build a Support System: A support system can help you feel like you’re not alone as you navigate your mental health. Look for support groups for people with your specific condition to help make connections and gain valuable insights from other people who have been where you are right now.

Returning to Work after a Mental Health Leave

Returning back to work after taking a mental health leave of absence, especially if it was a longer one, can feel stressful. Be sure to plan ahead to help make it more manageable. Your employer may be willing or able to work with you to make the transition back as smooth as possible.

For example, you might be able to return part-time first before easing your way into your full-time duties. You may also be able to get accommodations such as work-from-home support for certain days if the job allows.

If you used FMLA for mental health time off, your employer may require you to get a fitness-for-duty certification. This requires a doctor to sign off on your condition and acts as medical clearance for you to return to your previous duties.

Take time to review everything you’ve missed, especially if you took a longer leave of absence. Policies or procedures may have changed in the interim and you’ll need time to get up to speed on them.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

If you’ve been struggling with your mental health, it may be time for a leave of absence or a more intensive recovery process. For advice or help with next steps, feel free to reach out to us any time, by calling (866) 653-6220.