Mental health resources for a Federal employee working in California?
February 6, 2015 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm a federal employee working in California. I just had an anxiety attack at work. I think I need space to regroup mentally and emotionally. What options are open to me?

I've been responsible for one of my parents for several months now. This has prevented me from making some otherwise quick and easy progress on my own finances and life goals. I had an anxiety / panic attack at work today, which I'm certain was mostly prompted by recently having to pay out an unexpected, and large, amount related to this that wiped out my savings.

The anxiety attack lasted for about 15 minutes, during which I could not maintain composure. I cried, was unable to regulate my breathing, and could not concentrate on anything other than overwhelming feelings of helplessness.

I have had similar, smaller feelings in the past, but they were very controllable. I don't have a therapist or psychiatrist. I think I would feel much better with some time to adjust mentally and emotionally to my new burdens and financial reality. Three to six weeks off, for example, or maybe a temporary transition to part-time work that retained benefits (retaining benefits is important).

I'm particularly curious about what language to use, forms to fill out, and available programs and policies that are specific to federal employees.

For example, is there any existing path that would allow me to use sick leave to reduce the days or hours I worked during the week in order to reduce stress on a short-term basis? Is FMLA the only option? What documentation would I need to gather from a medical professional (and how can I do that quickly and ethically without even a current medical doctor)?

Moving to a 3-day or 4-day work week for two months, or working half-days for a month, would, I think, allow me to return to equilibrium without feeling overwhelmed.

I have limited annual leave available (about two weeks worth), but a massive chunk of sick leave (over 400 hours).

I'd like to speak with my supervisor about this within the next few days. When I do, I'd like to have several options in mind that would work for me that I could propose, and just in general be prepared and knowledgeable.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First, see your GP and get a diagnosis. You may be eligible for short-term disability or sick leave, based upon a diagnosis. You may also find help with an anti-anxiety drug. Celexa has helped my panic attacks tremendously.

Secondly, before you speak with your supervisor, call the Employee Helpline. It's usually called Employee Assistance Program. The person there can direct you to resources and options.

Also, don't destabilize your finances to help family members. Your family member has options, there are programs, Social Security et. al. If you are being stressed to the point of panic, you cant' be of help to that person or to yourself.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, call your agency's EAP provider today, right now if your can. If you don't know who they are, ask HR. They can help you find a therapist and for us, the first four sessions are free. They can help with problem solving and figuring out where to go from now. Good luck.
posted by umwhat at 1:43 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't have a therapist or psychiatrist.

If I am reading this question correctly, you are asking if it's possible to take significant sick leave and/or FMLA leave from an undiagnosed issue.

The answer to that question is, "that's a good way to get yourself fired."

The first step here is to get a diagnosis. Your GP/therapist/psychotherapist will suggest what to do next - which may or may not involve sick leave and/or FMLA leave. However, suggesting solutions prior to an actual diagnosis is a good way for your management to either deny your leave or make your work life quite difficult. Note, those actions may or may not be legal, but that doesn't mean they don't happen. The way to partially mitigate those issues is to have a medically backed diagnosis requiring you to stay away from work.

If you go to a therapist and say, "I need you to write me a prescription for sick leave", they should say "no, that's unsupported by what I know about you right now." If you say, "I recently had an anxiety attack, here is a description of my past issues with medical illness, and, by the way, should I be considering sick leave?", you'll get a much more useful result.
posted by saeculorum at 1:45 PM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

I strongly recommend that you look into your nearest Federal Occupational Health office. They have good people providing care for all kinds of physical and mental health issues.
posted by X4ster at 9:17 PM on February 6, 2015

Your Federal Occupational Health professional can act as your advocate for communications with your agency's management and HR.
posted by X4ster at 9:27 PM on February 6, 2015

Anxiety disorders can be very debilitating but they are also very treatable! Get an evaluation from a mental health professional and begin treatment as soon as you can. You'll be happy you did!
posted by jasper411 at 10:39 PM on February 6, 2015

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