Mental health leave is something that many employees don't know about or think about until they need it. Unfortunately, it's also something that employers don't always make clear when on-boarding new hires; leaving employees uncertain and uninformed when it comes to the potential benefits of taking mental health leave. Whether you're an employee looking for more information or an employer wanting to provide better support to your team, this guide can help unlock the full potential of mental health leave.
Mental health leaves are designed to give employees time off work to focus on their well being, whether they’re dealing with depression, anxiety or another mental health condition. Not only can taking this leave help reduce stress levels and manage symptoms, but it could also help boost productivity at work and improve job satisfaction over time.
By understanding the laws surrounding mental health leave and how to best manage them in the workplace, employers and employees alike can reap the benefits that come with taking the time off needed for one's mental well being. This guide will explain what you need to know about mental health leave so you can make informed decisions and create a supportive environment for everyone involved.
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Nobody's immune to bad days, when work you've just finished seems to vanish from your to-do list, your inbox feel like a giant game of whack-a-mole, and you're convinced you'll be the last one out of the team meeting. We all have those days when we can't seem to stop replaying our mistakes or worrying about that important deadline looming. They're absolutely disheartening, but unfortunately, they are a normal part of our working lives.
Sometimes an odd bad day starts off as more than that — like wet cement in your stomachs tied in knots — and it grows until you feel completely drained and exhausted. That's when a quick vacation isn't enough; you may need to take some mental health leave. Chauntelle Lewis is one example: she was a freelance diversity & inclusion consultant and an inclusive communities manager before taking a month-long mental health leave from her previous job; she eventually changed employers.
Tech professionals are especially prone to experiencing deep burnout; for many of them, mental health leave is often necessary for recovery after long stretches of working without proper rest or self-care. Taking time for yourself can come in the form of simple self-care routines like yoga or meditation — or even starting a mental health leave if needed — so that your workday feels less like trudging through wet cement and more like reaching important goals.
Uncovering the Truth About Mental Health Leave
In December 2020, research from July 2021 found that 34% of employees reported physical symptoms associated with mental health, and a further 31% reported that they would candidly discuss their shared experiences with mental health. This has caused a national conversation unlike any we've seen before on the topic, and it's no wonder why: The pandemic has pushed mental well-being to the forefront, making "taking a break" or "pressing pause" more than just a pipe dream.
But what does "mental health leave" really mean? Amira Johnson, Licensed Master Social Worker at Berman Center for Outpatient Therapy explains: “Mental health leave is an option for individuals who are experiencing increased stress or have been diagnosed with a diagnosable mental health condition." Karla Lever PhD, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Supervisor at Atrium Health’s Employee Assistance Program adds: “There is sometimes confusion between terms such as ‘stress leave’ and ‘mental health leave’. Medically speaking, stress leave may refer to taking time off due to experiencing higher levels of stress than normal, whereas mental health leave typically refers to taking time off for an illness related to mental health such as depression or anxiety.”
Dr Candice Schaefer, Clinical Psychologist and Global Head of Employee Wellness at Gartner adds: “It is important for employers to understand that when coworkers report to work feeling stressed or overwhelmed by their workload it does not necessarily mean they have a diagnosable mental illness; it could be more related to burnout due to overworking. When we take this into consideration we can start creating policies that provide support regardless if someone has a diagnosable mental illness or not.” Mental health leave should be used as an opportunity for people to address their own individual needs related to their overall well-being—and employers should use this moment in history as an opportunity to create meaningful solutions that make taking care of one's mind easier than ever before.
Discussing Mental Health Leave with Your Manager
Having a conversation with your manager about taking mental health leave can be daunting. In an ideal world you'd have an honest relationship where you could candidly share your thoughts and feelings without worrying about the consequences. Unfortunately, in reality it can be a nerve-racking conversation - especially if you haven't previously broached the subject.
When having this discussion, it’s important to have a private dedicated conversation with them, as well as provide a detailed breakdown of recent work and guidance on how the mental health leave will work. Allot enough time for this big subject so you don't feel pressure to rush through it, as that can make the process a lot smoother. Feel calmer by ensuring you're well-prepared for the conversation and comfortable sharing any personal details about why you're experiencing issues if need be - but remember, context is key so don't feel obligated to discuss anything that makes you uncomfortable. Explain what solution you're aiming for and make sure the expectations are explicitly clear - such as whether or not you'd like to leave immediately or return at some point.
If you don't feel comfortable approaching your manager directly, reach out to your HR team who should be able to provide assistance (Schaefer). It's also important to draw boundaries too - legally obligated or not, it's up to you how much detail is shared during these conversations.
Taking Time Off for Mental Health: Understanding the FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of leave for certain health conditions, including both physical and mental health conditions. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if they or a spouse, child, or parent have a serious health condition that requires either 1) inpatient care in a medical care facility such as a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility; or 2) continuing treatment by a health care provider. Examples of mental health conditions that may require either inpatient care or ongoing treatment include eating disorders, anxiety and depression, dissociative disorders, and other chronic conditions.
Inpatient care requires an overnight stay in a medical care facility while continuing treatment requires multiple appointments within consecutive days with a health care provider including psychiatrists, clinical psychologists, clinical social workers, and more. A single appointment is not sufficient to be considered continuing treatment unless it is followed by additional treatments such as prescription medication or outpatient rehabilitation counseling like behavioral therapy. In addition to the information provided by the employee’s health care provider regarding the health condition that warrants taking FMLA leave, the employer may request additional information from the employee’s health care provider if needed.
FMLA leave can be used for occasional periods of disability due to mental health conditions that require treatment to prevent recurrence of symptoms even if those periods do not require inpatient or continuing treatment from a health care provider. It is important for employers to understand their obligations under FMLA and ensure that employees who need time off for mental health reasons are provided reasonable accommodations according to the law.
1. Leave for the Employee’s Mental Health Condition
Eligible employees are entitled to 12 workweeks of mental health leave if they have a health condition that makes them occasionally unable to perform essential job duties. This can include, for example, severe anxiety or depression symptoms which Karen is experiencing. With the help of a doctor's monthly appointment, she can create a plan to manage her mental health and ensure her ability to work unexpectedly due to her health condition.
When an employee is unable to come into work due to their mental health, FMLA leave may be applicable. This allows them up to 12 weeks of leave per year in order to attend regularly scheduled appointments and rest during their work shift.
2. Leave to Care for Family Member with a Mental Health Condition
Providing care for a family member with a mental health condition can be an incredibly difficult experience. This type of care may include providing psychological comfort, helping them with regular daily activities, or even accompanying them to a hospital or inpatient facility if they are receiving treatment. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), home care and FMLA leave is generally limited to caring for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.
For example, if you have a fifteen-year-old son who is undergoing a 60-day inpatient drug rehabilitation treatment program, then you may be able to take FMLA leave to provide care for him during and after the program. This includes attending after-care meetings and providing other necessary support.
3. Leave to Care for an Adult Child with a Mental Health Condition
FMLA leave provides protection to employees who have to take time off from work to care for an adult child with a health condition or physical disability. This type of leave is available for practical purposes, often when children suffer from mental health conditions such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) regulations under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) require employers to consider whether any conditions that an employee's adult child has are considered disabilities and if so, whether they substantially limit one or more major life activities.
For example, FMLA leave may be available for a daughter named Alex who is 24 years old and was recently released from inpatient treatment for her mental health condition. Alex needs help with daily activities such as cooking, cleaning and shopping. If it can be shown that her condition substantially limits a major life activity, then FMLA leave can be taken by the parent for up to 18 weeks in any 12-month period.
4. Military Caregiver Leave for Mental Health Conditions
Eligible employees may take up to 26 workweeks of military caregiver leave during a single 12-month period in order to care for a covered servicemember. An eligible military caregiver is typically a spouse, son, daughter, parent, or other individual who is close to the current servicemember and meets certain criteria regarding their office grade/rank and when the active duty member began service. For veterans medically unfit due to an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during military duties overseas, the military family member can receive leave if the veteran left active duty on or after October 10, 2008. This includes injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI) - regardless of when the event occurred.
For example, Gordon’s spouse began taking military caregiver leave in order to care for him after he was honorably discharged from his military service overseas. Gordon has been receiving outpatient treatment at a Veterans Administration hospital due to a TBI incurred while serving in Afghanistan. To be eligible for FMLA leave under these circumstances requires coordination between the Defense (DoD), Veterans Affairs (VA), TRICARE health care provider, or private health care provider if they meet FMLA definition of a medical professional. Military caregiver leave also includes additional elements beyond those included in traditional FMLA including certification requirements specific to covered servicemember’s condition that substantially reduces that veteran’s ability to perform daily activities.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is mental health leave on the rise?
Yes, mental health leave is on the rise. Employees are increasingly taking time off work to focus on their mental health and wellbeing, which is a positive step forward for both individuals and employers alike. Learn more about how to take care of your mental health while at work.
Can FMLA be extended past 12 weeks?
Yes, FMLA can be extended past 12 weeks in certain circumstances. To learn more about the qualifications and procedures associated with an extension, please visit our website for more information.
What is a mental health leave of absence?
A mental health leave of absence is a period of time away from work or school to focus on mental health needs and recovery. It can help individuals regain the balance and stability needed to return to their regular activities feeling healthier and refreshed.
Should you take medical leave for depression and anxiety?
Depression and anxiety can significantly impact your life and should not be taken lightly. Taking medical leave from work may be an important part of managing your mental health and getting the care you need. Learn more about how to make this decision for yourself.
Why is sleep so important to mental health?
Sleep is essential for healthy mental functioning, as it helps to restore and refresh the mind. Getting enough quality sleep can help improve concentration, boost moods, reduce stress levels and improve overall mental health.