When to take leave of absence for depression?
October 27, 2013 2:00 PM   Subscribe

I am in a depressive episode and my symptoms are getting worse. They manifest themselves almost exclusively at work or when thinking about work. Should I ask my psychiatrist for a leave of absence to get my symptoms under control?

I have been treated for bipolar II disorder for over a decade. In April this year I took a turn for the worse after a family crisis. I received adjunct medication, took a course of MBCT, things improved. My family life is better, my weekends are good, my sex drive is back. I cycle 20 minutes and walk 15 minutes every day, practice yin yoga weekly and do mindful stretching/some breathing exercises in evening as I can (I need to not force myself).

However, I still cannot get it together to show up to work on anything resembling on time, or complete actions at work. I think this is directly related to the fact that I am on a team of people that do not trust each other. One of my colleagues will yell, pitch fits, and be generally argumentative. He doesn't like me and gives me the silent treatment. If I do something that he doesn't like, he will convene meetings with other team members (me excluded of course) to overturn the action, he will complain to our boss, he will badmouth me to other colleagues. Another colleague told my friend that he was damaging his professional reputation by spending time with me. I have given dissenting opinion which he called immature in a meeting with my colleagues. He will also forget the contents of communications in previous meetings and then turn around and undermine me in public. I surely do have my flaws in communication style that fans the flames of this but I am now considering the behaviour of these two individuals bullying.

I have told my boss that I am looking for an exit from my position. It is a small company so if I were to stay I would need them to create a new position for me (there is no transfer). I am actively looking for new jobs, I had two first round interviews last week and a phone screen tomorrow. We have no HR and no bullying policy.

In the meantime, my boss is trying to get the team to work together by various unfacilitated communication exercises, which I honestly think will just make the problem worse. I dread going in to the office and opening up my computer to do work. My husband will be hospitalized for elective surgery in 2.5 weeks and I am afraid that I will have a nervous breakdown from the two sources of stress together.

I see my psychiatrist on Thursday. Should I ask for short term leave from work? I think 4 weeks until my husband has been discharged and home from hospital for a week would do. Purpose would be to see if symptoms remit by removing source of problem. Would I even be eligible for disability in this scenario? I would spend the time on disability looking for other jobs, exercising, breathing, spending time with husband in hospital, caring for 6 year old child and dog (though I would retain and use services of babysitter to give myself a break). I would also talk to my boss and see if he could get me a different job in the company or sever my employment with package.

In all my years dealing with my illness I have never gone on leave from work. Is this even a good option? All insights welcome.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I took a leave last year when my depression became uncontrolled. I'm not comfortable talking about the rest of it here, but I'm happy to via memail.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:12 PM on October 27, 2013

I believe this is what short term disability leave is designed for. You have an increase in your symptoms that have not responded well to the actions you have taken. I think the next step would be a leave of absence to get a break and see where you are at.
posted by cairnoflore at 2:12 PM on October 27, 2013

I can't see any downsides to getting a leave, from your description. It certainly sounds like there are many reasons it would be good for your mental and physical health. Your work situation sounds brutal; your boss knows you're looking to exit; you've already got some interviews lined up. I'm not sure if you have much to lose by going on leave to care for your husband, your child, and--importantly!--yourself.

When you meet with your psychiatrist, you could just ask if they think it's a good idea. Tell them what you just told us and see what they say. Just because they're willing and able to recommend one doesn't take the decision out of your hands, but it's nice to know you have that as an option.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:16 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If money is of no concern in your decision, then the points that follow won't matter, but a leave of absence at most companies is usually elective, unpaid time, whereas a disability leave is mandatory paid time off for recovery/rehab, etc. Leaves of absence need not be medical, whereas disability leave must be. Also, with disability, there may be an "elimination period" along the lines of two weeks or something. In other words, you'd receive no pay for the first two weeks until the benefit kicks in. Check with the HR rep at your company or give your HR benefits manual a quick check to see if you have any stipulations like this. You may be able to use accrued sick time to cover any elimination period, if one exists. BTW, I agree you should look at your disability leave options as you have a really bad situation there. Good luck.
posted by Sonrisa at 2:39 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

(I'm assuming you're in the US.) How small is your small company? Check into state and federal laws; the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires an employer to give you your job back after your leave, doesn't apply to private companies with fewer than 50 people, but state laws are sometimes more generous toward employees. And if by "qualifying for disability" you mean state disability insurance, the rules for qualifying vary state by state, as well.
posted by jaguar at 2:42 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just another option to consider: does your company's HR policy allow you to use your sick days to care for a sick loved one? That might be another way to keep the stress from overwhelming you.
posted by salvia at 2:44 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes. Go on leave ASAP and use your leave to get better. While even the nicest people may claim to / try to be understanding of your condition, at the end of the day they will get frustrated if you perform your job badly. I tried to carry on for years as of nothing was wrong, and eventually got fired for fucking up too many times. Learn from my mistake.
posted by wutangclan at 3:41 PM on October 27, 2013

I have done this twice. My doctors/therapists tell me to go off pretty much as soon as I'm experiencing severe absenteeism or having massive decompensation during the work day (panic attacks, crying spells, etc.) I'm bad at taking myself off - usually they get pretty darned insistent before I'll consider it seriously. The first time I did it, I was weeping uncontrollably while on the phone with a counselor, who went and talked to my boss to explain that I really did have to go, because I wouldn't agree to do it until she'd absolutely promise me that it wasn't going to wreck everything at my job and make everyone hate me and blah blah blah. I do not recommend waiting until you're in a weeping-uncontrollably place before pushing the big red "leave of absence" button; the leave will be a lot longer and a lot more traumatic if you wait that long.

This next part of my answer pretty much assumes that you're in the US:
One thing to consider is the possibility of an ADA accommodation - fixing "what you do and how you do it" so that it involves minimal interaction with the team that's stressing you out. The ADA applies to pretty much anyone in the US who can say that they work "on a team" and have an HR office, so it's more of a sure bet than disability.

Social Security Disability requires six months of not working before they start paying you, and it's pretty hard to get (some states it's harder than others; my friends on SSDI for mental health stuff have only ever been approved the first time if they've been in an inpatient setting for more than just a 72-hour-hold, and I know two people who've been arrested, in inpatient for weeks, gone through ECT, and unable to work for over a year who are still appealing their first or second denial.

State disability programs and private disability varies. You may even be eligible for worker's comp (my state pretty much just doesn't allow that, but some do, when it's work-caused and severe enough.)
The rest is pretty much applicable no matter where you are:

I really strongly recommend focusing at least as much on treatment stuff as on getting daily life stuff done, if you're actually taking time off for mental health reasons. The whole experience of going off for that can be really destabilizing on its own (especially because you suddenly lose tons of structure,) and it's a golden opportunity to really put time into it so that, among other things, you can put yourself in a place to better spot and manage horribly unhealthy work environments before you're having to go off work again. Some of my accommodations were actually sorted out through counseling and self-assessment and so forth while I was off work: figuring out how to make "being an employee in a not-ideal setting" something I'm capable of pulling off, basically.

I second that finances can be a huge issue, depending. My insurance only pays 80% of my salary when I'm off, which doesn't get offset nearly enough by the fact I'm not commuting to work and don't ever get lunches out. My credit takes a hit each time, because of having to make arrangements, etc. This is also part of what makes taking the leave destabilizing.

Please feel free to MeMail me if you want more of a dialogue on the subject, pros and cons, the details of how I've handled the leaves, etc.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 3:58 PM on October 27, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, also, it's way way better to do something that means you're still technically employed at that job, than to actually quit. You never have to explain that gap on your resume, if you were still on the books. Even an unpaid LOA is better than unemployed-for-being-sick.

Also my state won't pay you unemployment if you say you quit your job because you were too sick to work, or at the very least they make it way harder. It's a catch-22 for people who are trying to get SSDI, because they have to tell one state agency that they're too sick to work, and another that they're not so sick that they aren't really in the labor force and thus aren't eligible for unemployment.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 4:03 PM on October 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is work-related illness, and you may be eligible for worker's comp. If you have accrued sick time you can use, use it. Your employer is allowing an appalling situation. You could talk to a lawyer about whether you are being discriminated against due to your illness. There's too much shaming and crap directed at people who have illnesses that manifest as mental. You deserve respect and decency in your workplace. Take the time, and get well soon.
posted by theora55 at 4:39 PM on October 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

i think it would be worth-while to you to talk to a labor attourney in your state because: it's a small company, and not everything applies to them, states have different laws regarding who can be fired and what counts as dissability, and given that you've already told your boss you're thinking of leaving your situation may be different from most cases.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2013

I don't know if any job is worth feeling the kind of dread you feel. I had a job that I dreaded. I'd think about it and cry, or I'd feel nervous when I remembered I'd have to go into the office. Eventually I got laid off, which entitled me to unemployment benefits, and it was amazing. I think if you can do short-term disability so you can get paid and stay employed and think about what to do next, do it. But I wouldn't stay in a job that literally makes you miserable just because you would, gasp, have a gap on your resume. It sounds like the people you work with, not the work itself, is toxic to you. The only thing that will fix that is getting new co-workers.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:47 AM on October 28, 2013

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