Managing bipolar disorder symptoms could be the key to top performance and long-term success in any job.
Every job presents challenges that typically come with different levels of stress. And every person brings their own personal history to their position, including mental health conditions.
If symptoms are impairing or interfere with daily functioning, some people apply for bipolar disorder disability benefits.
But, while living with bipolar disorder can present difficulties in working a steady job, many people with this condition enjoy successful careers.
Whether you work with the public or in an office, collaborate with a team or work alone, managing symptoms of bipolar disorder may be the key to excelling professionally.
Bipolar disorder, once referred to as “manic depression,“ is a mental health condition defined by disruptive changes in mood, energy, and daily function.
While several types of bipolar disorder exist, they all present with periods of depressive symptoms mixed with varying degrees of episodes of extremely elevated energy and mood, known as mania.
The type of bipolar disorder you live with may indicate how long you experience a depressive episode.
You may feel depressive symptoms for weeks at a time, or in the case of cyclothymic disorder, for years at a time.
Bipolar depressive episodes can bring many of the same signs of major depressive disorder. Feelings of despair and intense sadness can overrun your thoughts.
You may not feel motivated, and you may question your self-worth and abilities.
During manic episodes, you might find that you’re more inclined to be impulsive, irritable, or easily distracted. Your need for sleep may diminish, and you might seem unable to focus on any one task in particular.
Bipolar disorder can make you feel isolated, no matter what type of mood you’re experiencing.
You can have a productive career when you live with bipolar disorder.
In fact, living with bipolar disorder may mean you bring some unique qualities to the table, particularly in certain job settings.
Support can play an important role in how successful you are in your professional environment.
Finding a place of employment that offers mental health benefits and encourages a culture of empathy can be a big factor in how long you remain in a position.
Some of the challenges people with bipolar disorder could face may be specific to their job, but many aspects of living with this condition can impact any job.
For employers, absenteeism is one of the main obstacles. Employees with bipolar disorder typically miss an average of 18.9 workdays each year, compared with 7.4 average missed workdays among the general population.
Bipolar disorder support programs and benefits may also become more costly for employers, compared with health benefits claimed by neurotypical employees.
As an employee, working with bipolar disorder may mean facing stigma and discrimination. Even if your employer offers a supportive work culture, other employees may lack empathy or understanding.
Depending on the mood episode you’re experiencing, you may have symptoms of:
- extreme fatigue
- lack of motivation
- poor concentration
In some cases, a bipolar mania episode may involve psychosis symptoms, like:
- disorganized thinking
Living with bipolar disorder doesn’t mean you have to fit yourself into a box. You can — and have every right to — pursue a career that is meaningful and fulfilling to you.
There are no jobs lumped into a “bipolar disorder“ group. You are not defined by bipolar disorder, and it can be important for your job to speak to your passions and personality as a whole.
If you love animals, try to work with animals. Enjoy baking? There’s probably a local baker that could use help. If you’re all about the office setting, administration or assistant work may be for you.
Finding a job that’s the perfect fit can be challenging for anyone, regardless of mental health conditions. Some people may have to work in a few positions before finding one that’s right for you.
Still, the impact of bipolar disorder on employment may always be in the back of your mind. To help alleviate these worries, a job with accommodating features may suit you best.
A 2005 review of bipolar disorder in the workforce found that people with bipolar disorder tended to experience the best job performance and satisfaction when in a competitive atmosphere, compared with sheltered work, minimal work, or no work.
Many jobs now offer the option to pick your hours and when you want to fulfill them. Having a flexible schedule may allow you to work around days when you feel less productive or have appointments.
Like flexible schedules, fluctuating intensity in assignments and projects may also be helpful in a work environment for those living with bipolar disorder.
Projects that have varying deadlines and importance may be less likely to slip through the cracks or be affected by days off, compared with long-term, constant work.
Ways to escape
Few things wear people down like having to be around unsupportive co-workers or stifling environments during the workday, especially if you’re experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Jobs that offer multiple workspaces, break spaces, and outdoor areas can be great for stepping away or changing your scenery during moments when you need some inner peace.
Creativity and interests
A 2020 review indicates bipolar disorder often goes hand-in-hand with high levels of creativity.
Having a job that supports your interests and allows you to express your creativity can make the difference in your levels of motivation and focus.
Common work challenges and stressors may feel more intense if you’re experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder.
But no matter what job you’re in, certain strategies can help you manage bipolar disorder at work.
Communicating with your management team
Being open with human resources and your management team about living with bipolar disorder can help both your organization and you during challenging work moments.
Transparency with your managers can help equip them to empathize and support your mental health needs.
If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your condition with your supervisors, you can often request a meeting with human resources first. You may also qualify for assistance under certain disability laws and guidelines, depending on your employer and where you live.
It’s important to note that people with bipolar disorder in the United States are legally protected by the ADA against discrimination and losing your job.
Learning to stand your ground and set boundaries for a healthy work-life balance can go a long way toward overall wellness, not just when you live with bipolar disorder.
Boundaries let your co-workers and managers know where your limits are. Maintaining and respecting your limits can help you establish a workplace environment that is less likely to cause overwhelm.
Having co-worker support
Not all co-workers may be supportive or understanding of you working and living with bipolar disorder.
Making a connection with someone you can trust at work can be a great social asset to keeping you on track. A person who either has experience with bipolar disorder or who is open to learning about the condition can be an ally and an anchor in the workplace.
Co-worker support can gently steer you during manic or depressive symptoms. Supportive co-workers may be able to restructure explanations or projects in a way that makes sense to you.
When work days feel overwhelming, these people can be a source of comfort.
Moving around on your breaks
Bipolar depressive episodes may cause you to become more sedentary, or inactive.
According to a 2016 systematic review, physical exercise may be linked to milder depressive symptoms and improved functioning in people with bipolar disorder.
When your work break hits, try to use that as an opportunity to take a walk. You can also find ways to increase your activity while on the clock, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
Working with your doctor or therapist to develop a treatment plan can be one of the most effective ways to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder treatment often balances psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medication. Finding what works best for you may take time. You may need to try several strategies before settling on a treatment plan.
Keeping up with treatment
Keeping up with consistent treatment can be positive for your overall wellness and make an impact on your professional performance and satisfaction.
Symptoms may be less severe when you’re in regular therapy and taking prescribed medications as directed. Skipping doses or sessions can worsen bipolar disorder symptoms and may set your progress back.
Chronic stress can affect mental health. When you live with bipolar disorder, 2017 research suggests life stress can increase the chances you’ll experience symptoms.
Finding ways to manage stress at work, like through breathing techniques or meditation, can help reduce symptoms while you’re on the job.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that commonly comes with episodes of mania and depressive symptoms.
Working any job with bipolar disorder can bring some challenges — particularly when it comes to attendance and showing up. But living with this condition doesn’t mean you have to give up doing something you love.
Bipolar disorder is a treatable condition. Many people with this condition have successful, long-term careers in fulfilling professions.
Learning strategies for managing bipolar disorder symptoms could be the most important key to professional success. These strategies can include:
- maintaining open communication with managers
- creating strong support networks at work
- sticking to a consistent professional treatment plan
- managing stress with exercise and work-life balance
If you’re ready to seek help but don’t know where to start, visit Psych Central’s guide to finding mental health support.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or considering self-harm or suicide, help is available right now:
- Call a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
- Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
You can speak with a mental health information specialist about bipolar disorder and other mental health topics by calling the SAMHSA National Helpline: 1-800-662-4357.