Managing Bipolar Disorder and Work


Managing Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric condition which can cause severe shifts in mood.

People with bipolar disorder can “cycle” from high moods (called mania and hypomania) to extremely low moods (depression). These mood shifts, along with other symptoms of bipolar disorder, can create a unique set of challenges in someone’s personal and social life.

Bipolar disorder and other mental health conditons have the potential to make it difficult for a person to find and keep a job or to function at work, especially if symptoms are currently affecting day-to-day functioning.

In one survey, 88 percent of people with bipolar disorder or depression said their condition has affected their work performance. About 58 percent of them quit working outside the home altogether.

There are many challenges related to having bipolar disorder and keeping a job. However, experts say that work can actually be quite helpful to people with bipolar disorder.

Work can give people a sense of structure, reduce depression, and increase confidence. This may help to enhance overall mood and empower you.

There is no one-size-fits-all job for anyone. This is also true for people with bipolar disorder.

Instead, people with the condition should look for work that suits them as an individual. Here are some things to consider when deciding what kind of job is right for you:

What’s the work environment like?

Will this job support your lifestyle and help you grow as an individual, or will it be too challenging in terms of stress and erratic hours?

For many people with bipolar disorder, a quiet and relaxed workspace can help them to maintain regular schedules which can improve overall functioning.

What’s the schedule like?

Part-time work with an adaptable schedule can be helpful for people with bipolar disorder. It can also be helpful to work during the day.

Overnight and night shifts, or jobs that require you to be on call at night, may not be a good idea because sleep is very important. Maintaining a normal sleep/wake pattern can be beneficial with bipolar disorder.

What will your co-workers be like?

Seek a job where your co-workers have values in line with your own, and who also embrace work-life balance, as this is important to your overall health and well-being.

Having supportive co-workers is also helpful for feeling understood and coping during stressful situations, so seek out those that will support you.

Is the job creative?

Many people with bipolar disorder do best when they have a job where they can be creative. It can be helpful to find a job where you can be creative at work or a job that gives you enough free time for creative projects.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you should dig a bit deeper to try to better understand yourself so you find a job you’d enjoy.

Think about your:

  • interests
  • strengths and abilities
  • skills
  • personality traits
  • values
  • physical health
  • limits, triggers, and barriers

Once you narrow down your job choices, do some more in-depth career research. You can look at O*NET to learn more about each job’s characteristics, including:

  • working duties
  • required skills
  • required education or training
  • required license or certificate
  • usual work hours
  • work conditions (physical demands, environment, and stress level)
  • salary and benefits
  • opportunities to advance
  • employment outlook

If you can’t find a job that suits you, perhaps you may want to consider starting your own business. You can create your own job that allows for more creativity and flexibility than you may find if you work for someone else.

However, running your business has its own set of challenges. Depending on what you feel you need, you may prefer a regular structured schedule if you’re living with bipolar disorder.

Some work environments can be unpredictable, demanding, and difficult. All of this can cause stress.

For someone with bipolar disorder, this stress can have an overall negative impact on your physical and mental health.

To manage stress at work:

  • take breaks often and regularly, even if you’re not sure if you need one
  • use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation to reduce your stress
  • listen to relaxing music or a recording of nature sounds
  • take a walk around the block at lunch
  • talk to your support network if you need help
  • take time off of work for therapy and treatment when necessary

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help reduce your work stress. Exercise regularly, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, and be sure to stick to your treatment plan.

Legally, you don’t have to tell your employer any of your health information, unless you could put others at risk.

While generally people are more open today about discussing mental illness, there’s still a stigma. It’s not right, but people may treat you differently if they know you have a psychiatric condition — and this may include the people you work with.

On the other hand, there are many people who are understanding of mental health conditions and the challenges they can cause at work. For this reason, in some cases it can actually be helpful for you to share your bipolar diagnosis with your boss and the human resources department.

If those who work with you are aware of your condition, they may be more likely to accommodate you in ways that will reduce your workplace stress and make your overall working experience more enjoyable.

No one can discriminate you for living with bipolar disorder in the workplace. This is illegal.

If you decide to tell your employer about your health condition, Mental Health Works and the National Alliance on Mental Illness have resources to help you have that conversation.

Sometimes you’ll be able to find a great job by yourself — but if you’re having trouble, it can be very helpful for you to seek professional assistance.

Some free and low-cost sources of help include:

  • vocational rehabilitation
  • your school or alma mater
  • government or employment services

It’s not always easy to find and keep work if you have a mental health condition that disturbs your day-to-day functioning, but with extra effort it’s possible to find a fulfilling job.

Keep this in mind as you move forward with your job hunt.

JPeei Clinic