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Working with Bipolar Disorder

Working with Bipolar DisorderA friend of mine recently asked me if there is a relationship between bipolar disorder keeping a job. It tickled a spot in my brain, but I said I’d have to do some research and get back to her. I found there are a number of statistics on employment and bipolar disorder. Unsurprisingly, a good portion of the research focuses more on the employers than on the employees. Those of us with bipolar disorder are the most expensive employees with mental health problems. Our healthcare is expensive and our overall productivity is lower than average. It’s not that we perform poorly at our jobs, just that bipolar patients tend to miss twice as much work than those without the disorder. Throw in a nice dollop of stigma and it’s a wonder anyone with bipolar disorder can keep a job.

Now that you mention it, more than 50% of bipolar sufferers are unemployed at any given time and only 27% are employed full-time. Why? It can’t just come down to the bottom line, especially when stigma keeps many people from even mentioning their disorder to their employers.

It doesn’t. There are numerous factors that attribute to whether or not someone with bipolar disorder is employed. The most pertinent factor is cognitive function. Basically, you have to have a certain amount of verbal, emotional and intellectual acumen. Symptom severity is the next hurdle. Obviously, the worse the symptoms, the harder it is to work.

But let’s say we conquer those hurdles and land a job. Well, if you’re anything like me, getting the job may not be the hardest part. It’s staying there. I get very restless, very easily. The thought of going to the same place and doing the same thing, day after day, year after year, makes me want to turn and run. Fast. A lot of people love that kind of stability. Not me. Is it just my personality type or does my bipolar disorder have something to do with it? Likely both, but my personality isn’t really relevant here, so let’s focus on bipolar disorder, shall we?

The problem with holding down a normal job is that we are not normal. Our brains work differently, so we work differently. As our mood shifts, so does our outlook. For example, during manic phases, it’s easy to get caught up in frustration. Your attention span can be cut down to next-to-nothing. Having an amplified sense-of-self is going to make everyone else seem inadequate. Communication can break down because you can’t keep track of your own thoughts. You can be keyed up and irritable without even knowing why and that will have a tremendous effect on job satisfaction.

Depression also has its effects. One of the first symptoms of depression to look for is loss of interest. If you can lose interest in your family and friends with depression (which you can) then it absolutely stands to reason that your job is going to be one of the first things to go, even if you have previously enjoyed it. Anything that becomes a chore is undesirable, and when you’re depressed you just want to get away from it. Knowing you have to go to a job you’re no longer interested in (or were never interested in) just becomes that much harder. You begin to feel trapped because you may have no other options and it can continue to cascade from there.

Boredom, stress, lack of sleep, even seasonal changes can cause these swings that affect every aspect of our lives. We realize that our moods are going to change our day-to-day lives, but somehow it doesn’t seem like it should be allowed into our jobs. I have bad news. Bipolar disorder does not limit itself to your personal life. When spring comes and mania episodes tend to increase, it may impact your job satisfaction in addition to your shopping habits. It’s all tied together. Just like everything else, we have to have a plan to help get us through it. In the end, it may mean finding a new job, taking time off, or finding a new appreciation for the job you have.

The big takeaway is that if you are unhappy with your job, you need to reevaluate your situation. This does not mean that you need to quit. It means you need to take a step back because something you put a lot of your life into is causing you misery. Take some time and make sure your job is the right fit.

  • Are you getting enough sleep with your current job? Maybe you need to get off shift work or travel less.
  • Do you have enough structure? Structure can help minimize stress. Minimizing stress is one of the best things you can do to regulate mood.
  • Does it allow you flexibility? If you need to have flexible hours, take that into consideration. Working from home is sometimes the best answer. You can have the autonomy to do what needs to be done when you can manage it, and can provide a less stressful environment.
  • Can you be creative? People with bipolar disorder tend to be more creative-minded. You may need an outlet for that and if you can find someone to pay you for it, all the better.

Once you go through all the details and pros and cons, it may turn out that you’ve been too focused on the details and stuck on the inside to realize that you do actually like your job. On the other hand, you may realize that it’s time to start looking for something new. Just make sure to take your time so you don’t end up trading one bad situation for another.

Working with Bipolar Disorder

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2015). Working with Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Sep 2015
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