Mental health issues continue to surge to the forefront as people struggle in their personal and professional lives. As issues with physical health, COVID, finances, the opioid epidemic, and childcare mount, the average person’s mental health status in Ohio is at risk.
When someone has bipolar disorder, their ability to perform a job and maintain employment often suffers as their changing symptoms make workplace stability an enormous challenge. Employers should implement accommodations and prevention strategies to protect their workers and their business against dangers like low productivity, accidents, substance abuse and suicide.
Rather than just one disorder, bipolar disorder represents an entire group of mental health conditions as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Bipolar and related disorders are marked by inconsistent moods, levels of energy and need for sleep.
People with bipolar disorder tend to shift from one major mood episode to another, sometimes directly and sometimes with a period of calm in between.
During a depressive episode, the worker will report:
During manic or hypomanic episodes, they will experience:
Bipolar I disorder consists of independent periods of depressive episodes and manic episodes, where bipolar II disorder involves depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes. Hypomanic episodes share similarities to manic, but they last a shorter amount of time — four days for hypomanic compared to one week or more for manic.
Cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia) is a bipolar-related disorder marked by a person having intense mood symptoms for at least two years, but the symptoms never meet the full criteria for a depressive episode or a manic/hypomanic episode. People with cyclothymia may still maintain employment while frequently struggling to meet the expectations of their position.
As an employer working with various types of people in different capacities, having a firm grasp of the legal considerations around employment is essential. Making a blunder when navigating these complicated situations could create numerous issues for the business as well as unneeded distress for the employee.
All employers should become familiar with employment laws involving disability and discrimination, including:
The laws protect workers in that they cannot be discriminated against or terminated because of their bipolar disorder. Employees’ confidentiality and health information are also protected.
More employers shifting to remote work during the pandemic creates new questions about the best ways to support workers with bipolar disorder. While some with bipolar disorder will thrive in a work-from-home environment, others will yearn for the sense of structure, community and predictability associated with an in-person setting.
Potentially the best way to support a remote worker with a mental health condition is by checking in with them often. Are they feeling well, performing well and adapting to the changes? Sometimes, simply asking these questions is enough to make someone feel cared about and heard.
Since bipolar disorder symptoms shift and change over time, regular discussions are necessary. Just because someone was doing well in January doesn’t mean April will go smoothly. Countless triggers like the weather, situational stressors, holidays and anniversaries could spark an emerging mood episode.
The type of communication an employer uses is crucial as well. Some workers may not feel comfortable using “official” workplace communications like email, Slack or Zoom for fear that the information could be used against them. Check to see how they feel comfortable communicating while maintaining professional boundaries.
Work-from-home situations allow many opportunities to support a worker with bipolar disorder by experimenting with accommodations that meet their needs better. Perhaps they will respond well to shorter or longer workdays, relaxed dress codes, looser deadlines and other alternatives to the normal way of doing business. These experiments may seem to carry risk, but they could end with great success.
As always, remote workers should be encouraged to seek out professional treatments for their condition. Teletherapy apps for addiction and mental health are both effective and flexible.
As the workforce returns to the office setting, employers would be wise to ensure a smooth transition by establishing accommodations for employees with bipolar disorder. Some of the best changes include:
Being an employer does not mean that you have to have all the answers, but having access to the best and most appropriate resources makes you an asset to your employees and your organization. Whether you need more information on bipolar disorder or employer resources, The Recovery Village offers support to help meet your goals.
If an employee needs help managing their bipolar disorder and a co-occurring addiction but is unsure of their next step, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Our team can help with every step from assessment to aftercare for those in need.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.