How I asked for A Leave At Work Because Of Depression and How You Can Too!
Can you ask for a depression leave from your job? Yes, you can and this is how...
A few years ago, while working in an office while raising some money to start school again, I had one of the biggest bouts of depression in my life.
I was studying for the career that I thought was the right one for me, the one that my family definitely thought it was and they made sure I knew it! I was looking for the degree that my parents dreamed of for their child, and after three years, I had to drop out of college. It took me a long time to realize that I was not my dream but someone else's and that was wearing me down to the bone.
My family didn't take it well at all, and I couldn't help but feel like I let them down. It took me a little while to get back on my feet and I promised myself to get things done for myself now, but starting over is expensive and I needed money. It was there when I started working in an office supplies company.
The job wasn't dreamy, but it wasn't hellish either, but I wasn't in the best place. I still felt the weight of three years of school thrown away, and while I was working from 10 to 8 I had no time to work on myself. Little by little the stress of work added to my already shitty mental state, which, now I think about it, led me to experience an all too predictable depressive episode (hindsight is 2̶0̶/̶2̶0̶ a bitch)
I remember thinking "if I had the flu or was pregnant, they would have to give me some free time to rest and be better without a doubt" and it is curious how I felt that I did not have the right to request sick leave, although mental illness is one of the main cause of death in America and the world.
It turns out that I, like millions of workers, was skewed by the stigma surrounding mental health. I could ask for a mental health leave, in fact, I did (but it took me so long, I was scared shitless (would I lose my job, will I disappoint my family again) all these thoughts were racing through my mind. I remember walking into my supervisors' office and thinking, yup, I'm getting fired today. I thought getting leave for mental illness was simply not possible, a luxury, not for people like me...
The breaking point at work
I was afraid of many things, that I would be fired, that my boss would laugh at me to my face, that everyone in the office would think I was weak, or even worse, crazy. But most of all, I was afraid of not being able to get out of this state of mind.
All this happened a few years ago, but it turns out that the legislation on sick leave for mental illness has not advanced so much in the world. In some countries, mental illness is not recognized as a reason for requesting leave, and in others, like ours, it continues to be an unknown topic for most.
At the end of the day, the person who hindered me the most from asking to leave was myself.
My co-workers noticed it. I was not well. I didn't look good. I just told them I was tired, that I didn't sleep well last night. I still managed to get all my tasks done and do my job well, but at what cost? I punished myself too much for small mistakes, criticism kept me awake, the anxiety to do things right ravaged my nerves, all while struggling with an un-closable wound.
When I decided to talk about it openly, I was first thinking about asking for stress leave, which is a bit more common. Luckily, the more they asked me how I felt and why I wanted to leave, I was able to say it honestly and to my (pleasant) surprise, they were all incredibly understanding.
First thing's first
First of all, you should take the time to see a mental health professional. You can't just say “hey, I'm depressed. See you on Monday!” Besides it being proper procedure, this professional is the first step to your recovery. Although the main topic of this post is requesting leave from work, you must remember that the objective of this is to make you feel better.
A person at work whom I appreciate very much was the first to make me understand. “Have you discussed this with anyone?” I almost died of embarrassment when I said that I hadn't. The answer was more than obvious. She was the first to propose that I go to a therapist first. I did that. And that's the first thing you should do if you feel like you are in a similar situation to me years ago.
After talking about how you feel, the therapist will be the one to determine if you need the leave and for how long. He or she should make a report with all your symptoms, explaining why you need the time off.
Now you can go to HR
The amount of time it takes for your therapist to determine your situation can vary as well as the methods. Maybe it requires some tests, some exercises or just talking will be enough. You must be patient. In my case, it took a couple of weeks.
When you have the results, you can request a meeting with HR and start the whole bureaucratic process. From here, the process may be different for everyone who is reading this. Everything will depend on the laws in your country and company policies.
However, HR should guide through all this. The options are different and the requirements are varied. Maybe you just need to fill out some forms and get a signature from a doctor. Hopefully, it shouldn't be more complicated for you than it was for me.
Ok, I got it! and now that?
They may give you a few days, weeks, or intermittent days off while you are in your recovery process. You must keep in mind that this IS NOT A VACATION. It is time for you to plan and start working on your mental health and well-being.
You shouldn't stop seeing a professional just because you got the time off. Now is when you should see a therapist the most, now you have more time to focus on yourself. Your therapist will look for the causes of your mental illness and from there, establish a strategy.
Set small goals for yourself, like sleeping and eating better, spending time outdoors, getting some exercise. I used that time to better understand that dropping out of college was not a failure, it was just part of my journey to where I should be. It also helped me understand that my family was not constantly judging me or feeling that I had failed them for not graduating. That was the biggest weight I was carrying. Find out what that weight is and start to release it little by little.
We still have a long way as a society to see mental illness as a real problem in the workplace. There is still a lot of stigma around the issue, but the first ones who should talk about the issue without judgment are ourselves. Allow yourself to talk about what's weighing on you, and give yourself permission to rest and give yourself some time to clear your mind and heart.
We made something a little great! The Anxiety Workbook, get yours by clicking here.