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How to Tell Your Boss About Mental Health Treatment

In any given year, approximately 20% of adults in the U.S. experience some type of mental illness. While the severity of illness differs from person to person, it’s quite common to take time off work for therapy appointments, outpatient programs, or even in-patient hospitalization.

When it comes down to it, your mental health is an important aspect of your life that shouldn’t be overshadowed by your work. If you’ve recently been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, or you’re looking to take time off for mental health treatment, you should know you’re not alone.

It can be hard to tell your workplace that you’re taking time off for mental health reasons, but with some practice, you can advocate for yourself and protect your rights.

In this article we’ll discuss:

  • How to tell your work about a mental illness

  • Whether you should disclose hospitalization to your employer

  • How to protect your rights during conversations about medical leave and disability

Should I Tell My Boss I’m Going to the Hospital?

While you may find it easy to call off work for a twisted ankle or a bout of the flu, broaching the subject of mental illness can be much more difficult.

On one hand, if you don’t tell your boss you’re seeking mental health treatment, you may raise questions about your commitment at work, and you could be disciplined for taking too many days off without a reason.

On the other hand, if you tell your boss about your hospitalization, you could face stigma for your condition. While it’s illegal to discriminate against workers because of their mental health status, employers don’t always follow this practice.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself before deciding what to tell your boss.

How Long Will You Be Gone?

Are you simply staying in the hospital for a few nights, or will you be starting an extensive in-patient program? If you’re just staying in the hospital for a few nights, you can probably get away with telling your boss you’re sick, and leave it at that.

However, if you plan to be in the hospital for more than 2 or 3 days, you’ll need to have a conversation with your boss about taking time off. Otherwise, you risk being fired for missing too much work.

How Understanding is Your Boss?

If your boss is kind and understanding, you might feel comfortable opening up about your mental health struggles. However, if your boss has a history of being judgmental or downright unprofessional, it’s probably best to keep things under wraps.

If you don’t feel comfortable telling your boss you’re in the psychiatric hospital, simply explain that you need to take a medical leave of absence, without getting into specifics. If your boss demands more details, you can politely remind them that you have a right not to disclose your health information, even if you need time off.

What is Your Workplace Like?

If your workplace has a human resources (HR) department, you can work directly with an HR representative to request a leave of absence.

Once you’ve worked out the length of your medical leave, the HR representative will communicate this information to your direct supervisor. This method is ideal because it allows you to take time off without disclosing your health information to your boss.

What Benefits Can You Use?

There are several protections the government provides to individuals who need to take time off for mental health treatment. These include unpaid time off through the FLMA (Family and Leave Medical Act), guaranteed paid time off (in cities and states that require it), and accommodations through the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

Additionally, some employers offer a number of sick days, personal days, and short-term medical leave to their employees.

If you qualify for any of these benefits, don’t let them go to waste. Disclosing you have an illness or disability to your employer can connect you to paid medical leave, accommodations at work, and other benefits that can protect your employment and help alleviate your symptoms.

How to Tell Your Boss You’re in the Hospital – 4 Tips For Telling Your Boss About Mental Health Treatment

1. Understand Your Rights

It’s important to understand your rights when you take time off work for mental illness treatment. Knowing where you stand will help you feel more confident during your initial conversation.

It’s also helpful to know your rights if your boss tries to dissuade you from entering treatment. If they threaten to fire you for taking time off, you can politely remind them of your legal right to seek treatment.

For example, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) typically entitles you to up to two weeks off of work if you have a disability, like a mental illness, that requires you to do so.

The Family and Leave Medical Act (FLMA) also protects individuals receiving treatment for a serious condition, like a mental illness. This law allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for an illness (either mental or physical) or to take care of a sick family member.

Keep in mind you must notify your employer of your intent to take medical leave for the above protections to apply. You may also need to provide proof of your medical condition, like a letter from your doctor, before you’re able to take time off.

2. Prepare What You’ll Say

Telling your boss you’re receiving treatment can be a difficult conversation. Prepare what you’re going to say ahead of time, like which details you’ll share and which ones you won’t.

Think about questions your boss might ask like, “How long will you be gone?” and “Will this affect your work?” and prepare how you’ll respond.

3. Bring In Reinforcement

It’s okay if you don’t know how to explain your situation to your boss. You can always ask your therapist, social worker, or doctor for help. These professionals, if requested, can write a letter addressed to your boss explaining that you need to take a leave of absence for treatment.

These letters are typically confidential and won’t include any sensitive details like your diagnosis or treatment program.

4. Return to Work

It’s common to feel nervous about returning to work after undergoing psychiatric treatment. Remember, you have control over what you do and don’t want to tell your boss and co-workers.

Think about some of the questions your colleagues might ask when you return, and prepare how you’ll respond. If necessary, you can ask your therapist or doctor for some tips on how you’ll handle these conversations.

How to Tell Your Boss You’re Struggling Mentally

Sometimes, it can help to explain to your boss that you’re struggling mentally. This way, they won’t be surprised if you eventually need to take time off for treatment. While talking about your mental health status can be scary, doing so can help connect you with the support you need.

During this conversation, you might ask for accommodations at work or explain why you need to take time off for treatment.

Some people find simply telling their boss about their condition can provide relief from some of the stress and anxiety they’re feeling. After all, it can be exhausting to pretend you’re in a good mood when you’re actually feeling down.

Find Relief with Residential Treatment

If you’re struggling with mental health problems, don’t wait to seek the treatment you need.

Options Residential offers compassionate, evidence-based care to meet individuals wherever they are on their mental health journey. Our Dakota County rehabilitative services are designed to assist you in identifying and obtaining the skills you need to live independently again.

Relief from the anxiety and pain you’re experiencing is only a phone call away. Call (952) 564-3030 to schedule an intake session with our team.

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Please fill out the referral form below. Our Intake Coordinator will contact you to give you further information about services that are available.


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