Bipolar Disorder and Employment Issues

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Last Updated - 11/14/2022

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Updated 11/14/2022

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that can interfere with work. This is because it can affect your mood, concentration, energy and activity levels. This does not mean, however, that someone with bipolar disorder cannot work. Rather, finding the right job can enhance mood, increase confidence and improve the overall quality of life for someone with this mental health condition. 

Bipolar Disorder 

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes shifts in mood. These shifts occur in a cyclical nature, fluctuating between manic (high) and depressive (low) episodes. They can be quite debilitating and make it difficult for the person to fulfill daily obligations.

Symptoms vary depending on the person and what kind of episode they are having. Someone in a depressive episode may experience: 

  • Feeling sad, hopeless or irritable
  • Feeling fatigued or brain fog 
  • Loss of interest in everyday activities
  • Feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
  • Feelings of guilt and despair
  • Lack of appetite
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide

On the other hand, someone in a manic episode can experience: 

  • Feeling elated
  • Talking quickly and being easily distracted
  • Feeling full of energy and having a reduced need for sleep 
  • Feelings of grandiose and risky behavior 
  • Becoming easily agitated 
  • Having hallucinations or delusions
  • Lack of appetite

Bipolar and Stress 

Bipolar disorder can increase stress levels, which can have a negative effect on functioning in the workplace. The relationship between bipolar disorder and stress can be explained by the diathesis-stress model, which is the theory that mental health conditions are formed by a combination of your genetics and stressful events. According to this model, stress is a leading contributor to bipolar disorder.

In addition, people who live with bipolar disorder may be more prone to stress for a variety of reasons. Dealing with a mental health disorder can be stressful in itself. Futhermore, individuals with  bipolar disorder may face stigma or discrimination for their disorder. Studies show that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to experience negative events, whether that be a result of mental health symptoms or their interpretation of the events.  People with bipolar disorder may also be more prone to sensory overload, making the world a more stressful place. 

Can People with Bipolar Disorder Work?

People with bipolar disorder can work, but they may face challenges. Many mental health conditions can make it difficult for a person to carry out day-to-day responsibilities, especially in the workplace. For example, in a survey done by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 88% of surveyors reported that their condition negatively affected their ability to perform at work. 

Despite these challenges, working can be beneficial for  people with bipolar disorder and can allow them to showcase their strengths. Research shows that having a routine is associated with improved mental health and reduced overwhelm when confronted with distressing events. In fact, keeping a routine is a recommended coping skill for bipolar disorder. 

Managing Bipolar Disorder 

People with bipolar disorder may encounter issues in the workplace. Symptoms may make it difficult to attend work; one study shows that people with bipolar miss nearly 19 work days per year, compared to individuals without the condition, who miss around 7 days per year. Likewise, symptoms may slow productivity and strain relationships with coworkers. People with bipolar disorder may also be more prone to face discrimination in the workplace. 

However, discrimination against bipolar disorder is illegal, and there are resources to protect you. In addition, there are management techniques for coping with stress at the workplace, such as:

  • Take scheduled breaks from work often
  • Get fresh air during lunch by taking a walk 
  • Practice deep breathing and meditation 
  • Reach out to a support system when needed 
  • Take necessary time off of work for treatment

Best Jobs for Bipolar People 

There is no “perfect” job for someone with bipolar disorder. However, you can find the right fit by looking for a job that matches your interests, strengths and limitations. For example, a job that offers consistent hours might be better than a job with long or unpredictable shifts. Part-time work or remote work are also great choices for people with bipolar disorder because they provide flexibility. 

People with bipolar disorder tend to be creative and thrive when creatively stimulated. Therefore, it may be helpful to look for a job that offers a creative outlet. However, it is important that the job remains low stress and in a relaxed environment. Everyone is different, but these jobs can meet some of these requirements. 

For creative work: 

  • Writer 
  • Hair Stylist 
  • Makeup Artist 

For a calm environment: 

  • Librarian 
  • Tutor 
  • Yoga teacher 
  • Massage therapist 

For part-time work: 

  • Proofreader 
  • Accountant 
  • Receptionist 

Worst Jobs for People with Bipolar Disorder 

For someone with bipolar disorder, it is important to understand your boundaries and triggers when choosing a job. Some work environments can be draining, overstimulating, and inconsistent, which can trigger or aggravate symptoms. Some of these jobs may not be suitable for those with bipolar disorder. 

  • Emergency services (ER, paramedic, firefighter) 
  • Teacher 
  • Food services (chef, waiter, hostess)
  • Overnight shifts or alternating shifts (such as in healthcare) 

Working with Someone Who Has Bipolar Disorder 

Being an ally to a coworker experiencing bipolar disorder starts first and foremost with empathy. Being a listening ear, asking questions, and learning what does and does not help your coworker can form a positive, supportive environment for them. If you are noticing changes in their behavior, gently approaching the topic could prevent symptoms from creating a problem in the workplace. 

Mental health disorders in the workplace still carry a stigma today, and it is important to fight this stigma and advocate for your coworker. Educating yourself, encouraging your coworker to seek help, and offering accommodations can go a long way. In addition, if a coworker has trusted you with private information, do not share this without their consent. 

Bipolar Disorder Treatment 

Bipolar treatment aims to manage symptoms, as it is a lifelong condition, and might include one or more of the following:

  • Medication: Mood stabilizers and antipsychotics are most commonly used to treat bipolar disorder. In some cases, a health care provider may also prescribe antidepressants or other medications that target sleep and anxiety. 
  • Learning to recognize the triggers: Acknowledging and understanding your triggers is important to managing bipolar disorder. Journaling or keeping a chart of your daily moods can be beneficial in recognizing your triggers. 
  • Psychological treatment: Psychological treatment generally includes talk therapy or counseling. The most common forms of therapy for bipolar include cognitive-behavioral therapy or interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) and family-focused therapy, which are treatment techniques specifically designed for bipolar disorder. 
  • Lifestyle advice: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with structure is essential for those with bipolar disorder. Regular exercise, a consistent sleep schedule, and a nutritious diet all help with managing symptoms. 

Get Help for Co-Occurring Disorders

It is common for bipolar disorder to co-occur with another mental health or substance use disorder. Co-occurring disorders can intensify symptoms and make diagnosis difficult. In the case of co-occurring bipolar and substance use disorders, symptoms tend to be more severe than if experiencing either disorder individually. Treating both disorders at the same time, or dual diagnosis treatment, can provide lasting improvement for the patient. Dual diagnosis treatment offers resources that simultaneously help control substance use and provide relief from bipolar symptoms. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Our licensed medical team can offer dual diagnosis treatment as part of any personalized treatment plan to address both diagnoses. To learn more about our comprehensive treatment plans, call us today today to speak with a representative.

View Sources

National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder.” January 2020. Accessed July 8, 2022.

American Psychological Association. “APA Dictionary of Psychology.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

American Psychiatric Association. “Bipolar Disorder.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

Aspect Group. “Supporting a Colleague with Bipolar Disorder.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

Beyer, John. “Stressful Life Events in Older Bipolar Patients.” International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, December 2008. Accessed June 29, 2022.

Drugs.com. “Bipolar Disorder: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment.” January 26, 2020. Accessed June 29, 2022.

Mental Health America. “Creating Healthy Routines.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Bipolar Disorder.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Disclosing to Others.” Accessed June 29, 2022.

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