How To Request A Leave Or FMLA For Mental Health

Updated February 22, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Sometimes the demands from anxiety, depression, stress, or other mental health and physical health conditions can make work an overwhelming place. You don't have to give up and walk away from your job if you're having a difficult time coping. There are options for employees who need to care for their mental health and emotional health. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is one of the most popular choices, but it isn't the only one. Others can include online therapy, your employer's EAP, short-term disability, ADA accommodations, and more.

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What Is FMLA?

FMLA is a law that allows employees who need to care for themselves or a family 12 weeks of unpaid leave from work. Although you will not receive a paycheck for the time you are away and may have to pay health insurance premiums out-of-pocket, the law ensures your employer will keep your job until you return. This means you cannot be fired, laid off, or have your position taken away from you because of your absence. If for some reason, your job is not available at the end of the FMLA period, your employer must find you one within the equivalent company.

The law only permits the use of FMLA in certain situations. These include:

  • The birth of a new baby (time also may be used for pregnancy-related complications)

  • Adoption or foster care placement of a child who will live with the employee

  • Care for an immediate family with a serious illness

  • Care for serious personal illness

A serious health condition is defined as one that renders someone incapable of working, going to school, or performing other day-to-day activities. Routine examinations, treatment for illness (unless it meets the criteria above), acute health issues, and cosmetic procedures do not qualify. Complications from an acute illness or other procedure may be eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act if they cause an employee to be unable to work.

FMLA Availability

FMLA is not available to all employees. There are a few qualifying factors that make someone eligible for it. Employees must:

  • Work at their place of employment for 12+ months

  • Accrue 1,250 hours of work in the past year

  • Work for a company that has more than 50 employees

As you can see, FMLA doesn't cover everyone. There may be a condition under FMLA that disqualifies you from being eligible. New employees, part-time or temporary staff, and small business workers are excluded. In many cases, there are other options available for those who need time away. These other opportunities that come with FMLA and should be used with caution. Employers offer you the same availability for FMLA.

FMLA Options For Stress

In some cases, FMLA can cover stress, stress-related conditions, major life activities, and other mental health issues. FMLA can defend those going through extreme stress or mental illness if symptoms impact their ability to function, providing critical health benefits. Just as FMLA cannot defend someone who is experiencing the common cold, it cannot be used for mild to moderate cases of anxiety, depression, stress, or other psychological issues. You must show that your mental health symptoms prevent you from working.

Application Process

The process to get FMLA is fairly simple. The US Department of Labor provides all the information you need here. In most cases, you simply need to make your employer aware that you have a qualifying situation, and your human resources department will walk you through any paperwork or procedures they require for a formal request. If you believe that you’re unable to work due to stress-related conditions, make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional to discuss your options.

For planned leaves that will be covered by FMLA, you should let your employer know 30 days in advance if possible. For unplanned leaves, alert your employer as soon as you can. You do not have to tell specific details with anyone about your leave request (such as providing them with a diagnosis). However, you will want to give them enough information about the situation to show them it qualifies for FMLA.

Once you submit a request, your human resources department will look at the details, ask clarifying questions, and use any additional information you offer to approve or deny your leave. Your employer has five days from your initial request to decide. If you are denied, the employer must provide at least one reason why.

Your employer may want proof of any medical claims so they can understand the medical reasons behind the leave. Without this proof, your request may be denied. Your employer can ask for details such as how long you are expected to be away from work due to your health condition or information about symptoms, doctors' visits, and treatments. These details are for human resources use only. Be careful not to provide more than what is asked for. Avoid sending sensitive details to co-workers, direct supervisors, or your management team.

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If you do not qualify for FMLA for stress, either because you do not meet the requirements or do not work with a company that offers the benefit, there are other options you can explore.

ADA Accommodations

ADA, or the Americans with Disabilities Act, is a law that defends every worker no matter how long they have been in their position or their full-time status. It allows workers to request reasonable accommodations that make doing their job easier if they have a disability. ADA covers stress and mental illness if something about the work environment and amount of stress prevents the employee from doing their job well. There are no strict medical requirements like FMLA, but you may need a note from your doctor to get approval for any accommodations you need.

Typically, an ADA claim will not allow you to take time away from work due to stress-related conditions such as the rights under FMLA. The purpose of it is to give you what you need to do your job well onsite. However, you may be able to request extended lunches or breaks or a change in your work environment or schedule to better cope with your symptoms. For many, this can be as helpful as taking time away from work. If your request requires you to be away from your job, for example, to attend visits with a therapist, you will likely have to use options like your vacation time to cover your absence.

If you don't qualify for FMLA or ADA, consider taking leave. This option is like FMLA in that you can take unpaid time away from work, but it doesn't come with any of the FMLA offers. Unprotected leave is a risk because you may be terminated at any time you are away. However, if there is no other option for a stress leave at work, negotiating terms of leave with your employer is better than continuing to harm your mental health. If you want to know more about your case at a specific company, an attorney, lawyer, and other court services can help you better understand your rights.

Short-Term Disability

Your employer may offer short-term disability. This benefit allows you to continue receiving a percentage of your income while you recover from a disability. Unfortunately, many companies do not let employees use their short-term disability for mental or behavioral health issues. If your company is one of the few that does, read your policy carefully. There may be certain requirements you must meet or diagnoses you must prove to take advantage of the benefits. There are some instances where FMLA allows eligible employees to also benefit from short-term disability. If short-term disability isn't a possibility for you, check the details of some of the other benefits you are paying into to see if you might be covered elsewhere.

Employee Assistance Programs

If the effects of stress or another mental health condition are getting the best of you at work, check your employee handbook. Some companies offer programs geared toward improving the mental health of their workers like the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP helps workers receive mental health counseling for free to address personal problems happening at home or work. Some EAPs offer group classes in yoga, meditation, or resiliency or host workshops to improve overall well-being. These programs see success in mental health experience both with professional things and accommodations, as well as personal next steps. Again, contacting lawyers or attorneys about this program, to either get advice or guidance on the next step for you can help learn the forms and party requirements. There are also additional article and content types that dive into certification, and injury laws, and notice additional small factors in these programs.


If you need time away from the office and aren't comfortable talking about your medical details with those you work with, consider using your vacation time to recharge. A paid vacation will allow you to keep earning money while taking some important self-care time for you. Many companies allow employees to have vacation time with those who are experiencing hardship or health issues. You may be able to ask for additional hours through an assistance program like this. If you want to use your vacation time as a stress leave at work, remember that you don’t have to go anywhere. Stress can negatively affect your body and sometimes just changing up your routine and making time to relax can help.

BetterHelp Takeaway

If your options for taking time away from work are limited, you may have to find ways you can cope with your symptoms while you're there. For many, talk therapy is a good place to start. Consider reaching out to a licensed mental health counselor, like those at BetterHelp. Counselors can help you work through difficult emotions, change how you think about challenges in your life, and help you build skills for a better tomorrow. You might not be able to escape work, but you don't have to be burdened by dealing with your problems alone.

It's hard to be a good employee when you're dealing with extreme stress or other mental health conditions. Fortunately, FMLA allow employees to take the time they need to care for themselves. For employees who don't meet the requirements to get FMLA, other options are often available. The most important thing to remember is that if you don't prioritize your well-being, you will struggle to do your best in the workplace.


The demands of a workplace can vary, but there are options such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that can support you if you’re experiencing physical or mental conditions that are impacting your work performance. 

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