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Work and Mental Health

If you're avoiding mental health treatment for fear of losing your job, take heart. You may have more options than you think.

Vanessa drifted into my office and folded herself onto the couch. Her tired eyes were fixed firmly on the carpet. "They're going to fire me. I can't sleep. I can't keep up," she muttered. Vanessa said she'd experienced mood issues for years, but had always felt good about her work as a nurse, so she'd never sought treatment. In recent months, her depression and insomnia had become so unmanageable that her performance began to suffer. Finally, a negative work evaluation brought her to my office. Being a great nurse had been a central piece of Vanessa's identity. By the time she came in to talk with me, her confidence was shaken and she looked defeated. Fortunately, her story has a happy ending. After we discussed her rights, options, and benefits, she realized that she could get the help she needed without losing her job or racking up enormous medical bills. Vanessa started treatment, took two weeks off from work, and returned with renewed confidence.

Vanessa's misconceptions about pursuing mental health treatment are all too common. Many people suffer needlessly with anxiety, mood issues, and insomnia because they believe their employer will think poorly of them or punish them for taking time off for treatment. They incorrectly assume that mental health issues are not taken seriously and will not be covered by insurance or warrant time off for treatment. The truth is, ignoring these issues is more costly in the long run. In 2010, major depressive disorder alone cost an estimated $210.5 billion in lost work productivity in the United States. Mental health treatment, delivered in a timely manner, can prevent these losses. Below, I've compiled a list of common misconceptions about behavioral health in the workplace. Hopefully, it will dispel myths and provide the encouragement people need to get treatment and get back to the work they value.

"Getting the right diagnosis takes time. I will get fired if I have to leave work for too many appointments."

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protects the jobs and benefits of many workers with serious mental health conditions. Qualified employees may take up to 6 weeks of leave; compensation will depend upon the individual employer and whether or not the employee has short term disability benefits. Employees are eligible to use FMLA leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months; have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months, and if there are at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employee's workplace.

"My insurance probably does not cover mental health care."

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act mandates that health insurance plans cover services for mental health conditions on par with those for medical conditions. Most insurance plans are now in compliance with those laws, and if yours isn't, you can report the company to your state insurance department. Check with your insurance carrier for details about your specific plan.

"Extended leave is only for major physical issues, such as surgery."

Absences for inpatient mental health services, including substance rehabilitation, are often covered by insurance and qualify as serious health conditions covered by FMLA--just like surgery.

"I can't get time off to attend a series of regular therapy appointments."

A common misconception is that FMLA may not be utilized for outpatient care. In fact, FMLA covers series of intermittent psychiatric therapy and medication management appointments, which are often essential to proper treatment.

"My workplace has no resources to address mental health concerns."

Many employers have Employee Assistant Programs (EAP). These are voluntary programs that offer free and confidential assessments, short-term counseling, referrals, and follow-up services to employees who have personal and/or work-related problems. EAP counselors can also consult with managers to address employee conflicts. Check with your company’s human resources department for details.

"In order to seek care, I have to inform my employer that I have a mental health condition."

Employees are not required to disclose the nature of their illnesses. If an employee has mental limitations that may prevent them from doing their work, they are required to provide medical documentation that describes the specific limitation, not the condition itself. Also, employers have no access to medical or mental health records. Your records are protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

"No place in Austin will accept insurance for mental health care."

Pondworks accepts many insurance plans, and our providers are trained to manage medications, provide psychotherapy, assess whether a client would benefit from time off for mental health concerns, and offer guidance about returning to work after an absence. See the following link for further details:

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