Bipolar Disorder and Your Job

A bipolar disorder diagnosis can have a big effect on your job and career. In a survey of people with depression and bipolar disorderconducted by the Depressionand Bipolar Support Alliance, 88% said their condition affected their ability to work.

But don’t be alarmed. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t keep your job. Plenty of people with bipolar disorder work and live normal lives.

Should I Tell my Boss About my Bipolar Disorder?

You don’t have to talk to your boss or coworkers about your bipolar disorder. Your health is your personal, private business. But if your condition has been affecting your performance at work, being open may be a good idea. Your boss and coworkers may have noticed the changes in your behavior. If you explain what’s going on, they may be more sympathetic and helpful than you expect.

Making Changes in Your Job

Some people with bipolar disorder find their current job just isn’t a good fit. Maybe it’s too stressful or the schedule is too inflexible. Maybe it doesn’t let them get enough sleep, or involves shift work that could worsen their condition. If you think your job is hurting your health, it’s time to make some changes. Here are some things to consider:

  • Decide what you really need from your job. Do you need to reduce your responsibilities? Do you need extra breaks during the day to reduce stress, or need time off during the work week to keep doctor or therapist appointments?
  • Make decisions carefully. People with bipolar disorder are prone to acting impulsively. Think through the effects of quitting your job — both for yourself and possibly for your family. Talk over your feelings with your family, therapist, or health care provider.
  • Look into financial assistance. If you do need to take time off because of your bipolar disorder, see if your employer has disability insurance, or look into Social Security Disability Insurance, which will provide some income while you recover. You can also look into the Family and Medical Leave Act. Ask your doctor or therapist for advice.
  • Go slowly. Returning to work after you’ve taken time off can be stressful. Think about starting in a part-time position, at least until you’re confident that your bipolar disorder has stabilized. Some people find that volunteer work is a good way to get back into the swing of things.

Bipolar Disorder Stigma at Work

Unfortunately, you may still run into people at work who treat you unfairly because of your bipolar disorder. Often, their behavior stems from ignorance. They might see you as “crazy” or think your condition is “all in your head.” You might be able to head off problems by teaching people a little about bipolar disorder.

But that’s not always enough, and the stigma of mental illness can hold you back. Some people with bipolar disorder feel they’re treated unfairly at work; they might be passed over for promotions or raises, for instance.

If you think you’re being treated unfairly, there are things you can do. The Americans with Disabilities Act can protect some people who are discriminated against because of a health condition. But don’t do anything rash. Research the law, and talk your situation over with friends, family, your therapist, and your health care provider before taking action.


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