Can I Get Short-Term Disability for Burnout?
Intense workplace stress has been on the rise in the United States for years, and the problem has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 2018 Gallup survey of 7,500 workers found that almost 1 in 4 (23%) were feeling burnt out at work. By spring of 2021, the job listing aggregator Indeed estimated the rate at more than 1 in 2 (52%) based on its survey of 1,500 workers. The estimated rates are even higher among doctors, nurses, and other medical workers who have been on the front lines throughout the pandemic.
Burnout can be the primary contributing factor to mental and even physical health problems, many of which can significantly affect your job performance or even keep you from working temporarily. However, successfully claiming short-term disability benefits for burnout (or other mental health struggles) can often be challenging, and if you do not take the appropriate steps beforehand, your disability claim is likely to be denied.
In this blog, we take a closer look at burnout, how it can interfere with work, and the steps you must take if you wish to qualify for short-term disability benefits.
What Is Burnout?
Everybody experiences stress at work from time to time. However, when work-related stress becomes chronic and employees feel like they never get a chance to take a mental break, significant symptoms can develop.
Common signs, symptoms, and risks include:
- Mental and physical exhaustion
- Inability to concentrate
- Disruptions in sleep habits
- Chronic headaches
- Unexplained stomach or bowel problems
People suffering from burnout are also at increased risk of abusing drugs and alcohol or developing eating disorders, as well as a host of other mental and physical health issues.
Burnout may arise in workers who are forced to work long hours and meet impossible demands, feel uncertain about their responsibilities, are isolated from their coworkers, or must put up with toxic work environments.
At the core of it all, though, is usually a feeling of helpless and loss of control. Burned out workers not only feel overwhelmed, but they also feel that there is nothing they can do to make the situation better.
Physician Burnout: A Growing Epidemic
In the 2021 Medscape National Physician Burnout & Suicide Report, one physician surveyed commented, “I often feel despair, I have severe anxiety and PTSD. I have severe self-doubt, and I have lost the strong sense of self and values I once had.”
If this sounds like you, you are not alone.
Physician burnout has been an issue for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend. About 42% of doctors experience burnout—and 47% of that population report severe symptoms that strongly affect their lives. It is resulting in doctors reducing their hours, changing their work settings, and even putting their practices up for sale.
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What Is Short-Term Disability?
Short-term disability insurance pays disabled individuals a monthly benefit while they recover from a physical or mental health condition. Many people have short-term disability coverage through their employer. Or, you might have purchased a private or individual short-term disability policy yourself.
Like their name implies, you cannot receive short-term disability benefits forever. Most policies will cover your disability claim for a year or less. After that, you might be eligible for long-term disability benefits.
Can I Get Disability Benefits for Burnout?
Maybe. Short-term disability benefits typically pay you a monthly benefit when you meet your policy’s definition of disability. Common definitions of disability include:
- Own occupation: you cannot perform the primary functions of your current job, due to health conditions
- Own specialty: you cannot practice your exact medical specialty, due to psychological or physical limitations
- Any occupation: you cannot any type of work, including the simplest, lightest jobs
If you need help interpreting your policy or plan’s requirements, it is a good idea to consult with a disability insurance lawyer. They can review your summary plan description or policy and offer personalized advice based on your unique situation.
Once you have assessed your eligibility for benefits, it is time to file a disability insurance claim. However, if you are experiencing disabling burnout, be prepared for a fight.
Excuses Insurance Companies Use to Deny Disability Claims for Burnout
While the term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s and the phenomenon has been the subject of studies for decades, it is not a medical diagnosis. You will never receive disability insurance benefits simply because you feel burnt out—you need a documented, disabling medical condition.
However, this does not mean that obtaining short-term disability benefits related to job burnout is an impossible task. It just means that extra care needs to be taken to prove that you are truly suffering from a medical condition that prevents you from performing your job duties.
What you might describe as burnout might really be symptoms of:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
You will need to convince the insurance company that your documented mental health conditions (along with any physical health conditions you have) make you eligible for short-term disability benefits.
Insurance Adjusters Are Skeptical of Mental Health Claims and “Self-Reported” Symptoms
You can objectively prove that someone has coronary artery disease or ulnar neuropathy. It is not as easy to show that you have disabling depression, anxiety, or other burnout-related conditions. After all, mental health conditions do not appear on imaging studies or lab work.
Insurance adjusters are always looking for reasons to question your credibility, and many of them will argue that your mental health conditions are not as severe as you allege—especially if you inconsistently seek care. Many mental health claims involving depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder are initially denied, even when the conditions are otherwise qualifying.
Treatment Is Key to a Successful Short-Term Disability Claim
Not enough professionals get the mental health treatment they need. In the 2021 Medscape Burnout Survey, about 20% of those surveyed reported clinical depression. Another 69% said they have colloquial depression. However, many doctors avoid mental health treatment, often arguing that they can deal with it on their own, minimizing their symptoms, or saying that they are just “too busy” to get the care they need.
Concerningly, 13% of the doctors indicated that they have suicidal thoughts.
If burnout at work is causing you significant mental or physical distress, you should always seek medical attention. If necessary, step away and focus on your wellness and self-care. Long-term unaddressed burnout can lead to serious, chronic problems, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and increased susceptibility to illness.
When you consult with your doctor, you should ask them to help you determine whether you are suffering from a diagnosable mental illness. Even though burnout is not a medical diagnosis in and of itself, it may overlap with one or more mental illnesses such as anxiety disorder or clinical depression.
But a medical diagnosis is just the beginning of your battle. Not everyone with depression or anxiety qualifies for short-term disability insurance. You must convince the insurance adjuster (or a judge) that your burnout makes it impossible to work.
That is where your history of consistent mental health treatment comes into play. Work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive treatment plan and follow it faithfully. In addition to helping you recover from burnout, you will be simultaneously building evidence that demonstrates the severity of your condition and that you and your doctor are taking the appropriate steps to treat it.
Tips to Reduce Workplace Stress
Burnout can be incredibly difficult to manage on your own, since often the stress comes from external factors, and a feeling of helplessness or lack of control is a common factor.
Still, if you are beginning to recognize the signs of burnout, these tips may be able to help:
- Step away from your job temporarily and focus on self-care. If you have a couple of vacation or PTO days coming up, use them. Completely unplug while you are out.
- Focus on getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night.
- Exercise regularly. It can help you manage stress and take your mind off work for a period of time.
- Eat a healthy diet. Getting proper nutrition can have a profoundly positive effect on your energy levels, alertness, and mood.
- Try a relaxing activity or hobby in your spare time, such as meditation, yoga, cycling, or reading.
- If you feel you can trust your supervisor, speak with them about your job expectations and see if there are any alternative options that can help make your job less stressful, such as flexible working hours, different responsibilities, or additional support.
- If you start to feel like burnout is taking a toll on your wellbeing and you are not able to get it under control, do not put off seeking medical evaluation and treatment. Help is available.
Need Help With Your Short-Term Disability Claim? Contact Bryant Legal Group Today
Our attorneys excel at protected the legal rights of disabled workers and professionals, including doctors and nurses. We only represent individuals—never insurance companies—and will work hard to get you the full short-term disability benefits you deserve under your plan.
Making sure you have solid medical evidence of your disability is crucial in any short-term disability claim, but especially for mental health claims. We can help you understand your policy benefits and limitations, determine if you have a case, and guide you through the steps you need to take to have the best chance at getting the compensation you deserve.
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Contact Bryant Legal Group
Get the answers and insight you deserve. Our experienced disability insurance lawyers can evaluate your claim and help you understand all your legal options.