How to request a mental health leave of absence from work

Mental health is an essential aspect of our overall well-being, and it’s crucial to prioritize it — especially in the workplace.

In today’s fast-paced world, work can often become a significant source of stress and anxiety. If the mental burden of your job becomes too much, you should take time to rest and recover, just like you would if you were physically unwell. Read on to learn how to request a mental health leave of absence and prioritize your well-being in the workplace.

What is a mental health leave of absence?

A mental health leave of absence is a period of time when an employee takes a break from work due to a decline in their mental health. The purpose of this absence is to give employees the opportunity to seek treatment, recover, and return to work when they’re ready.

As an employee, you have different types of mental health leave of absence available to you:

  • Short-term leave: Sometimes called “stress leave,” this absence can range from a few days to a few weeks. Short-term leave allows you to address immediate mental health concerns and take time to recover.
  • Long-term leave: This type of leave may last for several months and is often used for more severe mental health concerns that require extensive treatment and recovery time.

Eligibility criteria for a mental health break from work may vary depending on your company’s policies, local laws, and regulations. It’s essential to consult with your employer or human resources department to understand your rights and options.

What is the FMLA?

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law in the U.S. that provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year for specific family and medical reasons, including mental health conditions. The common reasons for taking FMLA leave include:

  • The birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.
  • The care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.
  • The employee’s own serious health condition, including mental health struggles, that makes them unable to perform their job.
  • Qualifying exigencies arising from a spouse, child, or parent being on active military duty or called to covered active service.

To be eligible for FMLA, you must:

  • Work for a covered employer.
  • Have worked for the employer for at least 12 months.
  • Have completed at least 1,250 hours of work in the 12 months preceding the leave.
  • Work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

The FMLA requires employers to maintain your health benefits during the leave period and to reinstate you to the same or equivalent position upon your return. Employers are also obligated to maintain confidentiality regarding your medical information and protect you from retaliation for exercising your FMLA rights.

For employees who don’t qualify for FMLA, alternative options may include exploring employer-specific policies, state and local laws, short-term disability insurance, or using vacation time or personal days. Some companies may offer their own leave policies, such as personal or medical leave, even for employees who don’t meet FMLA eligibility requirements. Consult your employer or HR department to understand the options available to you.

Additionally, some states or local jurisdictions have their own family and medical leave laws, which may provide additional protection or benefits for employees who don’t qualify under the FMLA. Research the laws in your area to determine if any apply to your situation.

When and why you might want to ask for a mental break from work

As an employee, it’s crucial to recognize when your mental health may be impacting your ability to perform at work and your overall well-being. Knowing when and why to request a mental health leave of absence can make a significant difference in your recovery and long-term success.

Here are some common circumstances and scenarios that may warrant a mental health leave:

  • Experiencing a significant increase in stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Coping with a personal or family crisis
  • Undergoing a major life change, such as a divorce or the loss of a loved one
  • Struggling with burnout due to excessive workload or unrealistic expectations
  • Receiving a mental health diagnosis that requires immediate attention and treatment, such as post-traumatic stress disorder

The benefits of asking for mental health leave

Taking a mental health leave of absence is a vital step in addressing your well-being and ensuring long-term personal and professional success. By recognizing when you need time off and proactively seeking support, you’re prioritizing your mental health and fostering a healthier workplace culture.

Let’s explore the key benefits of asking for a mental health leave of absence and how it can impact your life as an employee:

  1. Time for self-care and recovery: Mental health leave provides you with the opportunity to focus on self-care and healing. By taking time off, you can attend therapy sessions, practice stress-reduction techniques, or simply rest and recharge without the pressures of work.
  2. Improved mental and emotional well-being: By addressing your mental health concerns and taking the necessary steps to recover, you can experience a significant improvement in your overall mental and emotional well-being. This can lead to a more positive outlook on life and increased resilience to future stressors.
  3. Greater focus and productivity upon return to work: Taking time off to address your mental health can lead to increased focus and productivity when you return to work. With a clearer mind and renewed energy, you’ll be better equipped to tackle tasks and contribute effectively to your team.
  4. Reduced risk of further mental health issues: Proactively addressing your mental health concerns can help prevent further issues from developing. By taking the necessary time to heal, you reduce the risk of your mental health deteriorating further, which ultimately benefits your overall well-being and work performance.
  5. Promotion of a supportive and understanding work environment: When you prioritize your mental health and openly communicate your needs, you help create a more supportive and understanding workplace culture. This may encourage others to take their mental health seriously and seek help when needed, ultimately benefiting everyone within the organization

How to ask for a mental health leave of absence

Requesting a mental health leave of absence may seem daunting, but it’s a crucial step in prioritizing your well-being and ensuring a healthy work-life balance. As an employee, understanding the right approach and communicating effectively with your employer can make the process smoother and less intimidating.

Here are the key steps to follow when pursuing a mental health leave of absence:

  1. Seek medical advice: Consult with a healthcare professional about your mental health concerns and discuss the potential need for a leave of absence.
  2. Research your company’s policies: Review your employer’s guidelines regarding mental health leave, FMLA, and other relevant policies.
  3. Prepare documentation: Obtain any necessary documentation from your healthcare provider, such as a medical certification, to support your request for leave. This could include a mental health leave of absence letter from a relevant professional with an estimated duration for your leave.
  4. Develop a plan: Consider how your workload and responsibilities can be managed during your absence and be prepared to discuss potential solutions with your manager or HR department.
  5. Schedule a meeting: Request a private meeting with your manager or HR representative to discuss your need for a mental health leave of absence.
  6. Be honest and concise: Explain your situation without going into excessive personal details, focusing on the impact on your work performance and your need for time to recover.
  7. Submit your request: Provide your employer with the necessary documentation and follow any established procedures for requesting a leave of absence.

Returning to work after a mental health leave of absence

Returning to work after medical leave for mental health can be both challenging and rewarding. A successful transition back to the workplace involves careful planning, open communication, and a focus on your continued well-being. Taking the time to properly prepare for your return will ensure a smoother and more productive reintegration into your work environment.

One of the first steps is to maintain an open dialogue with your employer throughout your leave, updating them on your progress and discussing any concerns or necessary accommodations for your return. This communication fosters trust and understanding and sets you up for success when you head back to work.

Upon returning, you might consider a gradual re-entry, such as starting with part-time hours or modified responsibilities. This approach allows you to adjust to the demands of your job while continuing to prioritize your mental health.

It’s also essential to have a support system in place, both in and outside of work. This could include continued therapy, support groups, or regular check-ins with your supervisor to address any ongoing concerns or needs. Additionally, prioritizing healthy habits over work, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, and sufficient sleep, can help maintain your mental well-being and resilience.

Finally, be patient with yourself during this transition period. Recognize that it may take time to adjust to your work routine and responsibilities, and it’s essential to continue prioritizing your mental health as you navigate your return to work.

Potential signs of burnout to look out for

Recognizing signs of stress and burnout can help you take action before your mental health begins to suffer. Some indicators to watch for include:

  • Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
  • Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
  • Increased irritability or mood swings
  • Decreased motivation and productivity
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Physical symptoms, such as headaches or digestive issues
  • Withdrawal from social interactions
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities you once found pleasurable

FAQs about mental health leave

Below are some frequently asked questions about mental health leave of absence:

Can mental health leave be paid?

It depends on the employer’s policies and the type of leave taken. Employees may be able to use paid time off or sick leave to cover mental health leave, or the employer may offer a separate paid mental health leave policy.

Can mental health leave be part of workers’ compensation?

In some cases, mental health conditions can be considered a work-related injury or illness and covered under workers’ compensation. However, this varies by state and situation, so employees should consult with their employer or a legal professional to determine their eligibility.

Your health comes first

Taking care of your mental health is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and ensuring long-term success in your career. Remember: employers have an obligation to support their employees during this time and provide a safe and healthy work environment, and this includes offering you the opportunity for a mental break from work if you need it.

Seeking help when needed is a sign of strength, not weakness. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so make time to take care of yourself. You are always more important than your work — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.