How to Find the Mental Toughness to Apply for Short-Term Disability Leave


Reader: I have an incurable and debilitating neurological disease that has worsened in recent years. I can no longer work a full work week or give certain parts of my work the attention they deserve. Intellectually, I know it’s time to take a short-term disability leave. Emotionally, I’m terrified of quitting a high-paying job at age 60, even temporarily. It is possible that my condition will not improve in the short term and that I must be on long-term disability. How can I prepare myself emotionally to take the steps I need to focus on my health?

Karla: I am so sorry that you have to deal with this abrupt detour in your life and career. If you don’t already talk to someone, your doctor or employee assistance program (if you have one) can refer you to a mental health professional or a support group to help you deal with the emotional challenges at hand. come.

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Even though I haven’t had to deal with a health crisis of this magnitude (yet), I know this: when I’m terrified, it’s usually because I’m looking too far ahead of the path ahead of me. I’ve barely laced my boots, but my brain is already climbing the worst-case scenario mountain. For me, focusing on practicality helps overcome fear like a flashlight in the fog. So that’s the approach I’m going to recommend here.

Two things help me keep my anxiety under control: drawing a map of the terrain ahead, and then focusing on the reality of the next step.

Find out about your benefit options

When planning your future in this kind of situation, “it’s all about educating yourself and getting the information you need to make an informed decision,” says Terri Rhodes, CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition.

The standard route for someone facing long-term illness or disability would be to claim short-term disability benefits until exhausted, then claim long-term disability until eligible. federal disability benefits through Social Security. But additional benefits and options may be available depending on your employer and state; some private retirement savings accounts also include a disability component, Rhodes noted.

For each of these options, you will want to know:

  • How can I benefit from this advantage?
  • How long does it last?
  • How much does it pay?
  • To learn the ins and outs of how your benefit plans work and interact, consult your human resources department or your employer’s third-party benefits administrator. They can also tell you how your health care coverage might be affected if you stop working long term.
  • Unfortunately, your income will almost certainly take a hit. People with disabilities face disproportionate economic hardship. Census Bureau data indicates that up to 25% of people with disabilities live in poverty. Start looking for ways to reduce your expenses, increase your savings, or find other sources of income without losing your eligibility for assistance. EAPs often include access to financial and legal advisors who can help you prepare for lost income, or you can engage the services of a private trust financial planner ( .
  • Rhodes notes that the Social Security Administration offers an excellent benefit eligibility checker that walks you through the federal benefits you’re eligible for based on your work history, marital status, health, and more. factors with a simple questionnaire. Try it at

For some workers with disabilities, the pandemic has brought surprising benefits.

Going on short-term disability is scary and you don’t know what comes next. But you said it yourself: you know this is the next best step. And just in case you think that means you “give up”: it’s a strategic necessity. Taking disability leave will allow you to focus on managing your health and making plans.

And try not to put yourself forward. You may think you should keep all your options open by working part-time while intermittently claiming disability leave. But it could sabotage your chances of recovery, the same way working on vacation defeats the purpose of taking it.

Plus, Rhodes notes, there’s usually an even longer waiting period to qualify if you find you need long-term disability benefits. If you’ve worked intermittently in the past few months, “you’re eating up your short-term disability and missing your long-term disability waiting period,” Rhodes says. You may end up having to start this new waiting period again without any compensation.

Check your map. Consult the specialists. Have a clear view of your current situation. Then proceed to the next step, with my best wishes for you.

Reader’s request: This column only scratches the surface of all the considerations involved in incorporating a long-term illness or disability into one’s life. If you have personal experience with this process, what have you found useful or what pitfalls can you alert others to? Share your tips at [email protected]

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