How to Manage Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace: Guest blog by Ralph Macey

bipolarwork

(image: bphope.com)

People with bipolar disorder face a major problem in maintaining a good job performance at work due to frequent mood shifts (from high moods to extremely low moods). High moods are characterised by mania and hypomania. On the other hand, low moods are characterised by depression. These mood shifts create several types of challenges in the social, professional, and personal life of the people.

Bipolar disorder can make it very difficult for a person to get or keep a job especially if the symptoms are hampering day-to-day functioning, and if they also have anxiety.

In a recent survey, it has been found that 88% of the individuals with bipolar disorder face problems in maintaining a decent work performance. Around 58% of the people have stopped working altogether.

It’s a fact that bipolar disorder brings many challenges that can hamper work productivity. However, qualified psychiatrists specialising in bipolar disorder say that it’s possible to get and maintain a job while having a bipolar disorder by following a few tips. Let’s talk about them today.

 

How to get and maintain a job with bipolar disorder

1. Don’t volunteer to disclose your medical information to the employer during the interview. Employers have full right to decide if you can do the job properly. But they can’t ask confidential questions to you.

2. As per the Americans with Disabilities Act, (and other disability legislation around the world like her in the UK), employers can’t force you to give a medical exam or check your medical records. They also can’t ask you questions regarding your medical history. Moreover, this Act forbids any kind of discrimination on the basis of perceived or actual disability. So it’s better you read the rules and regulations of this Act before going for a job interview.

3. Try to avoid talking about your past. Instead, talk about your current capability of doing a job properly.

4. Ask about health insurance after getting a job. Just review the benefits information before accepting the job officially.

5. If your mental illness becomes an issue for the employer once in the job, then bring a letter from your psychiatrist that gives a general outline of the treatment you’re undergoing. Request that the psychiatrist issues a letter where it’s clearly written how much you can cope with at work. You can read the letter before giving it to the employer. 

How to keep a job with bipolar disorder

It’s a myth that you can’t be successful at work with a bipolar disorder. There are several things you can do to control your mood swings and manage your work. Let’s talk about them in detail now.

1. Take medicines as instructed: Even if you’re extremely productive during a manic high, don’t skip your medicines. That is not advisable as you can become unwell too with your mania.  Don’t stop taking medicines even when you feel well for several months. Remember, medicines keep all your symptoms under control. When you stop taking medicines, your symptoms can reappear and aggravate your mental illness.

Bipolar disorder medications have some side effects. Some medications cause drowsiness. This makes it quite difficult to focus on work. Speak to a psychiatrist specialising in bipolar disorder about this issue if you feel too sleepy at work. Ask if you can change the time you take the medication. Learn about the various strategies to combat drowsiness so that you can give your 100% at work.

2. Relax a little bit: Take short breaks between work regularly. Take a short walk during the lunch break. Listen to music that uplifts your mood. Take deep breathing. All these things help you to relax, especially if you are low or have anxiety .

3. Lead a healthy lifestyle: Exercise regularly to keep your mind and body fit. Eat healthy and nutritious food. Have adequate sleep at night. If possible, try to sleep for 8-12 hours at home. Try to avoid eating unhealthy food. A healthy lifestyle can help you manage bipolar disorder both at home and work, by making you feel at your best.

4. Organise your tasks:   Bipolar can at times interfere with work functioning.This means your mind may not cooperate with you on a regular basis. Try to organise your tasks. I

Create a ‘to-do’ list on the Google calendar and check if each task has been completed. Whenever you fail to finish a particular task on a specific date, move it to the next date on the calendar. This way you’ll remember about the unfinished task. Divide big projects into small tasks. It will be easier for you to manage them.

If you are struggling, you can speak to your work HR if they are understanding.

 

Should you inform your employer? The eternal dilemma

Let’s accept it. There is a social stigma attached to mental health, however many employers are becoming more understanding and the stigma is lessening. Your medical information is something confidential and private. Obviously, you may not want to share it with everyone. You don’t need to talk about your mental health openly at work if you don’t want.

However, if your boss or line manager is cooperative and a good human being, then you can have a conversation with him or her. When you need to take leave for doctor appointments, your boss will understand and give you a day off without issue.

 

Conclusion

Don’t panic. Don’t feel that you’re less than anyone because of your bipolar. Your mental disorder doesn’t define you. Your work is not the only thing you have in your life. Spend quality time with your friends and family and volunteer to help others.

If you have a good conversation with your employers and/or your doctor/ occupational health, you may be able to manage at work.

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