Should You Consider Short-Term Disability Leave for Depression?

Many people understand taking time off to deal with medical problems. Yet depression and other mental health challenges can equally disrupt your life. It can be devastating for you, your family, your job… and can completely turn your life upside down.

Sometimes the best thing may be to take a medical leave to get your mental health back on track. Taking disability leave can:

  • Protect you from bankruptcy because you can’t work to pay your bills…
  • Help cover the financial cost of getting the help you need…
  • And most of all, give you an opportunity to reset and finally start healing.

This short guide will look at whether leave from work is appropriate for you, how to get approved for short-term disability leave, and what treatment options you have to finally heal your depression.

Table of Contents

Is Short-Term Disability Leave Right for Your Situation?

If depression makes it nearly impossible to keep working, taking short-term mental health disability leave can help you get back on your feet again.

If you have a medical history of major depressive disorder, you’re not alone. More than 16 million Americans suffer symptoms of depression like:

  • Low energy and motivation
  • Inability to focus
  • Agitation
  • Restlessness
  • Negative thinking that doesn’t stop
  • Passive wish for death
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Excessive or disrupted sleep

Just because you’re dealing with depression though, that doesn’t mean you have to take off work. Some people are able to still continue with work or school even though they’re depressed.

Unfortunately, depression can become severe enough to prevent you from functioning normally. Going to work, school, or even to the store can seem like a daunting task that “just can’t be done”. And with some individuals, traditional treatment options such as SSRIs, SNRIs, or individual therapy doesn’t seem to provide a lasting improvement. In those cases, more intensive treatment may be needed.

The main question to ask is:

“How much is your depression disrupting your life?”

For example, if you barely have the energy to leave the house, it can be very hard or even impossible to do your job. If you’re not able to work or function normally, then short-term disability leave is worth considering.

A Self-Test to Help Diagnose Depression

Only a licensed physician can make the final determination for your disability leave. But there is a simple quiz you can take on your own to gain insight into the potential for depression diagnosis. It’s called the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). And it can give an objective measure of your symptoms. It’s fast and easy, and you can fill it out online for free:

Do You Have Depression? Take This Short Quiz Now to Help Find Out

If you’re dealing with symptoms of moderately severe or severe depression, please reach out immediately. You don’t have to suffer. There is help available. (If you’re not sure how to get help, don’t worry. We’ll share a few options for treatment in just a moment.)

When Might You Consider Short-Term Disability Leave For Mental Health

  • Treatment Resistant Depression
  • Postpartum Depression
  • PTSD
  • Trauma
  • Severe Anxiety
  • Grief or Loss
  • Suicidal Thoughts
  • Other Mental Health Crisis

Even for Mild or Moderate Depression, Act Now

If your condition isn’t severe enough to take disability leave, you don’t need to suffer any longer. Therapy or other mental health services can help with mild or moderate depression. Seek out help today. Early intervention is important to support your overall well-being and prevent things from getting worse.

What Options Do You Have for Mental Health Leave?

Depending on your employer, insurance provider, or the state you live in, you may be able to claim short-term disability coverage for mental health issues.

Short-term mental health disability leave is longer than your normal sick leave. Sometimes you can take up to 6 months of leave, although shorter durations (4-6 weeks) are more typical to help you get back on your feet. The exact terms of your leave, how much you’re paid during your time off, and coverage for treatment varies based on your disability provider.

Your disability provider is most often going to be your health insurance company. (Although there may also be non-profit or state run programs depending where you live.) The provider acts as the “in-between” for you and your employer. They’ll require documentation from your healthcare provider of your ongoing care – such as dates of appointments, assessment of functioning, diagnosis, treatment progress, and more. But the disability carrier does not share your diagnosis with your employer.

Questions to Ask Your Disability Provider

You’ll need to reach out to your disability provider (e.g. your insurance) to get more details. Including:

  • What criteria do they use to decide eligibility for mental health disability leave? (Usually this involves a clinical evaluation from a medical professional.)
  • How much do they pay for your time off? Full-pay? Half-pay? Other?
  • What treatment is covered? How much of the cost will they cover? Is there a deductible or co-pay?
  • How long will they allow you to take off? (This will be influenced by your clinical evaluation and recommendations from your treatment provider.)
  • What paperwork do you need to file?

Government Run Programs or Long-Term Disability Leave

If you’re out of work, or your employer/insurance doesn’t provide disability benefits, there are some other options to look into:

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows some employees to take a job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks for certain medical reasons (including some mental health issues). This means you won’t lose your job for taking. Not ever employee is eligible though. And your time off is usually unpaid.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) is available to disabled adult workers who have paid Social Security taxes. The bar to qualify for SSDI is typically quite high and will require extensive documentation. You’ll need to demonstrate a complete inability to do any of the tasks involved in your occupation.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a similar program to SSDI for low income individuals. It’s a fully needs-based program and applicants have to meet strict limitations on income, asset holdings, and even potential financial support from friends or family.

How to Get Short-Term Disability Approved for Depression

The exact process will vary depending on your primary care provider. But if you decide to take time off for mental health disability, there are generally two main steps:

Step 1: Get an Evaluation From a Licensed Mental Health Professional

To get disability leave for mental health, you’ll need a clinical evaluation from a mental health professional.

If you’re seeking disability coverage from your insurance, they will most likely require a full clinical assessment. Because “disability” suggests a serious impairment, your provider needs to determine a diagnosis and understand how your symptoms are impacting your ability to function in your daily life.

Ideally, your existing therapist or psychiatrist will be managing or recommending your leave (if you are currently getting mental health treatment). Although there are sometimes legal restrictions where the disability provider will need to handle the evaluation instead.

Either way, you’ll sit down with a psychiatrist (or other licensed professional). They’ll take some time to get to know you and your situation. And they’ll ask you questions about:

  • Any problems you’re experiencing (e.g. low energy, suicidal thoughts, etc.)
  • The frequency and severity of your symptoms
  • How your depression or other mental health challenges are impacting your daily life
  • Your overall ability to function in your work, school, or in your life
  • What treatment you’ve gotten so far, and the impact of that treatment

Sharing about your mental health may be intimidating for some people. But remember, the psychiatrist is not there to make you feel wrong or bad. They’re there to help you! The more openly you share with them, the better they’re able to understand your situation and help you see what is best for you.

At the end of your evaluation, the psychiatrist will be able to give an official diagnosis and advise you on a course of treatment. If appropriate, they may also recommend short-term disability leave for your situation.

Step 2: Determine a Clear Treatment Plan

An extended leave away from work purely to rest and recharge can be beneficial. However, your disability provider will want to see you’re taking active steps to get treatment. They don’t want to be paying for your leave indefinitely. (Plus, your employer would love to have you back and thriving at your job too!)

The disability provider will want to see…

  • A detailed plan outlining the exact treatment you’ll receive.
  • Justification for why that level of treatment is appropriate (based on your evaluation with the psychiatrist).
  • Expectations you’ll need to meet (such as regular attendance, active participation in your treatment, and ongoing check-ins with your provider).
  • A timeline for when you’ll complete your treatment and go back to work.

Yes, sometimes getting the mental health care you need can take longer than planned. But showing that you’re actively getting treatment makes it more likely that your provider will authorize additional time off if needed.

What Treatment Options Can Help Your Depression?

You don’t have to face depression alone. Help is available.

If you’re not sure what to do for your depression, don’t worry. There are treatment options you can benefit from starting immediately. Here are a few to consider:

Seeing a Therapist or Psychiatrist

Therapy is a great option for many people. A good therapist can equip you with tools and skills to work through your current challenges. They can help you maintain your mental health and keep you moving forward in a positive direction.

Others may benefit from seeing a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist can prescribe antidepressants or other medications. And they’ll work with you to figure out what options are safe and appropriate for you.

However, if you’re dealing with treatment resistant depression or a mental health crisis, you need something more than just ongoing “maintenance”. You need an elevated level of care, and you need it soon.

Hospitalization or Crisis Help

In severe cases (such as attempted suicide or substance overdose), you may need to be admitted directly to a hospital. This can be a literal life-saver. And many people do need intensive, dedicated care from a team of therapists, psychiatrists, nurses, and doctors.

If you’re facing a mental health emergency or are actively contemplating suicide, please get help right away. Dial the suicide prevention hotline at 988 to speak to someone immediately.

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

IOP therapy is a short-term intervention designed to get results fast. It’s for when you’re at a breaking point and regular visits to a therapist or psychiatrist don’t seem to be enough. IOP is designed to provide foundational skills and help you work through specific challenges you’re facing right now in your life.

Most of your treatment will take place in a group setting led by a licensed therapist. This includes 3 sessions per week (each 3 hours in length) over about 8-12 weeks . You’ll also regularly meet one-on-one with a psychiatrist or therapist.

This intensive level of care is not for everyone. But if your evaluation with a psychiatrist determines it’s necessary, getting approval can be straightforward. Providers like IOP because it can produce results and help people quickly. And it’s also far less expensive to them compared with hospitalization (or other inpatient care).

One other additional benefit of IOP is:

You Can Do IOP While Continuing to Work

Because IOP sessions take place a few afternoons a week, it is possible to get treatment while continuing to do your job. So if you’re in a good enough place to continue working, you can do so while still getting the help you need.

For people who go through IOP, most choose to take a full break from work. Some decide to work only part-time. And others choose to keep working full-time while getting treatment. It depends entirely on your individual situation and needs. (If you’re not sure what route is best for you, that’s not a problem. The psychiatrist will help you decide when you do your evaluation.)

How to Get Help Immediately

If you have been dealing with depression for quite some time and previous treatments have been unsuccessful, don’t keep living needlessly with the pain, frustration, and helplessness that treatment resistant depression brings into so many lives.

Contact Plural Healthcare today for an evaluation with one of our clinical providers. We’ll help you decide if IOP is right for you and get you the help you need right away.