When you’re having mental health challenges, sick leave can make a big difference. Not sure what to say when calling in sick with depression? Here are some options.
Your mental health is just as important as your physical health — and prioritizing self-care over work is necessary sometimes, whether it’s the flu or depression. But due to stigma and misconceptions, it’s often harder to talk with your employer about mental health.
Every month around 18% of United States workers report having a mental health condition.
Many mental health conditions are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if they substantially interrupt your life. In fact, psychiatric disabilities are some of the most common disabilities covered by the ADA.
Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you disclose your mental health challenges to your employer. If you choose not to tell them, you’re not “lying” — this is a legally protected choice. That said, you may need to disclose some information to get certain workplace accommodations.
Calling in sick for mental health reasons is perfectly valid. A sick day can give you time to practice self-care, allowing you to return to your day-to-day life feeling calmer and refreshed.
Not all employers may see it this way as stigma against mental illness is still rife. As such, you may want to be thoughtful about what you say when calling in sick with depression.
If you’re concerned about your employer discriminating against you, you can keep it vague. For example:
- “I’d like to take the day off as I feel unwell.”
- “I need to take a day of sick leave because I’m ill.”
- “My doctor has advised me to take time off to recover from illness.”
- “I’m requesting a day’s sick leave. I have an ADA-protected condition and I’ll need a day off to recover.”
If you think your employer will be understanding and you’d like to explain, you might adapt one of the following phrases to suit your situation:
- “I’d like to take time off as I’m not in a good frame of mind. Will it be possible to take sick leave for mental health reasons?”
- “My depression symptoms have worsened and I need a day off to recover. As such, I’d like to put in a day of sick leave.”
- “I’ve mentioned my depressive disorder before. Currently, my symptoms are difficult to manage and I think I’ll benefit from a day’s leave.”
If your employer offers specific mental health leave, you can specify that you’re taking sick leave for mental health reasons. You could say something like:
- “I’m putting in a day of mental health leave. Thank you for your understanding.”
- “I’m feeling unwell and I’d like to use a day of my allotted mental health leave to recover.”
No matter what you say, it’s a good idea to keep the following in mind when calling in sick with depression:
- remain polite and friendly
- ask if they require a doctor’s note
- estimate when they can expect you to return
- thank them for understanding
Can my employer deny mental health sick leave?
Labor laws in the United States differ from one state to the next. According to the Department of Labor, It’s not illegal to take time off for mental health reasons, but employers are not obligated to provide paid sick leave.
Your employer may request medical certification of your condition, but the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits them from asking invasive questions. However, requesting an ADA accommodation does require you to disclose your mental illness to your employer.
Depression can qualify as a disability if it significantly limits your ability to engage in one or more major life activities.
Also, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it’s illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of a mental health condition.
When taking time off for your mental health it’s a good idea to read your company’s policies and check in on your state’s laws around sick leave and workplace discrimination.
What if I need an extended leave of absence?
If you need an extended leave of absence for your mental health — such as needing multiple weeks off — the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) can provide employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year. It covers mental health conditions, including:
The FMLA permits you to take leave without losing your job placement and benefits.
To qualify for FMLA, you must have worked for the same employer for at least 12 months. The FMLA only applies to companies with more than 50 employees. To learn more about the FMLA, you can contact the Department of Labor.
A therapist, counselor, or psychiatrist can write a doctor’s note to support your request for time off work. They do not have to specify your condition or why you’re taking time off.
In some cases, a primary care doctor can also write a doctor’s note if you’re taking sick leave for depression, especially if they know your diagnosis.
The ADA and FMLA do not specify which medical conditions count as disabilities. There is no comprehensive list of mental illnesses that qualify for sick leave.
You can call in sick for any mental health reason, diagnosed or not, including:
- anxiety disorders
- bipolar disorder
- personality disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- seasonal affective disorder
- specific phobias
This doesn’t mean that your employer has to grant your request for leave, though. It’s worth taking the time to check your employer’s sick leave policy as well as your state’s labor laws.
Calling in sick for mental health reasons can have a positive impact on how you feel.
During your time off, you might use some science-backed self-help tips to soothe depression like journaling, exercising, or spending time in nature. You might also schedule a therapy session or practice stress-reduction methods.
To improve your mental health in the long run, you can consider asking your employer for ADA accommodations. The Job Accommodation Network has more information on accommodations for mental health.