A bipolar disorder diagnosis can have a big effect on your job and career. In a survey of people with depression and bipolar disorder conducted by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 88% said their condition affected their ability to work.
But don't get alarmed. Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder doesn't necessarily mean that you can't keep your job. Plenty of people with bipolar disorder work and live normal lives.
Karen Renken was just 14, but she knew something was terribly wrong. "I
was a straight-A student, and suddenly I started failing in school," says
Renken, now 45, of Long Island, N.Y.
At high school, she would go from enjoying a seemingly normal mood to
throwing a tantrum in the hallway. Her teenage response to normal requests,
such as her mother's plea to pick up after herself, was dramatic. She would,
she says, "shriek like a maniac."
Renken was sent to a psychiatrist, who prescribed an antidepressant,...
You don't have to talk to your boss or coworkers about your bipolar disorder. Your health is your 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. 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? Would you rather work independently or in a group? Do you need to work shorter hours or take time off? Or do you need a different job altogether?
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.
SOURCES: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth edition, Text Revision, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.
The Nation's Voice on Mental Illness.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).
American Psychiatric Association.
National Institute of Mental Health.
Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Bipolar Disorder, 2002.
WebMD Medical Reference: "Bipolar Disorder."
Muller-Oerlinghausen, B. The Lancet, Jan. 19, 2002.
Kaufman, K. Annals of Clinical Psychiatry. June, 2003.
Compton, M. Depression and Bipolar Disorder, ACP Medicine.
Joseph Goldberg, MD on October 02, 2012