Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

Many people with bipolar disorder hold down jobs, just like everyone else. We get up, swear in traffic, survive on coffee and rant about our bosses behind their backs.

But people with bipolar disorder or another mental illness have special challenges when it comes to work. We’re sick more often, we need time off for medical appointments and stress affects us more than your average person. Here are a few tips on handling work and bipolar disorder.

1. Don’t tell.

This first piece of advice is contentious, I know, but I recommend not telling anyone at work that you have bipolar disorder – not even your boss – without a very good reason. That piece of information is terribly “juicy” and telling one person means the information will eventually crawl its way around the office until everyone knows. And whether one person knows or everyone does, you will likely find out what stigma, discrimination and prejudice are all about. People will start to look at you differently and interpret your actions differently. People will stop recommending you for projects and you might even get passed over for a promotion. And that’s all assuming that more overt, illegal acts of discrimination and hate don’t happen. Is this a worst case scenario? Maybe. But it’s a real one that many people have faced and I recommend not risking it unless you really have to.

(If you do need to tell your boss, look into filing for a protection as a person with a disability. This can protect your from overt acts of discrimination.)

2. Work hard.

Perhaps it goes without saying but you should work hard at work. You should strive to work harder than others. Be on time. Turn in projects by the deadline. Create stellar work. Why? Because you are going to need more time off than others for appointments and for sick leave and you need your boss to remember you for your hard work and not your absenteeism.

3. Don’t stress.

Try not to let work stress you out. When you’re stressed you raise levels of hormones in your body and when you do this for prolonged spans of times you feel sicker and your immune system becomes comprised. Then you have two problems – you have the flu and you have bipolar disorder. Learn to meditate, practice yoga, do relaxation exercises or just go for a run.

4. Take the time you need.

Yup, you want your boss to think of you as a good employee but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the sick time you need and that you’ve earned. When you’re sick just admit it and stay home. It’s okay. It’ll be much better for you in the long run than trying to “power through” and making yourself worse for weeks or even months to come.

5. Be discrete.

When you need to take time off, understand that you don’t need to say why you’re sick, only that you are. It’s perfectly okay to need to take time for a psychiatrist’s appointment in many workplaces but you don’t need to tell people that’s what you’re doing. When you need to take time off because you’re too depressed, you don’t need to tell anyone that’s why you’re staying home – you just need to say that you’re sick. The details are your business.

Working with Bipolar

Holding down a job with bipolar disorder is entirely possible. You can achieve and succeed at work and bipolar doesn’t have to stop you but it may be more difficult than for others and it may take more of a toll on you. But following these tips can make it just a little bit easier.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

This entry was posted in Coping, Depression, How Others See Bipolar, Impact of Bipolar, The Price of Publicly Being Bipolar, Understanding Mental Illness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

  1. Raquel says:

    i have bipolar I, and suffered a lot personally and professionaly, and my opinion is never tell anything to anyone that they don’t really need to know. I learned to put up a front, to control the behaviours so that people can’t tell what is going on, If things get bad i have to escuse myself. It’s difficult, i get really nervous around people, but can’t really Trust anyone. If you have a disease everything you do that doesn’t fit the expectations is labeled “crazy”, it’s just one more thing people can throw at you. On the other hand is hard not to be yourself, it’s like i need to create various layers to deal with various people, even the ones you love, especially those you hurt… This was my survival instintc strategie to avoid another hospitalization. I take my meds, always, and since they finally found the right one i never had any big problem, just some bad/worse days. Although it Neves goes away, that feeling that something is not quite normal… I worked in several places, always had problems with co-workers. Now i finally can work part time in a more protected environment (famíly company), i was unemployed for 4 years… But my effords to control these behaviours paid off, now i regained some dignity and trustworthiness you lose when you are labeled “crazy”. It’s really hard, but with some efford and luck you, who also share the effects of This illness, Will also find positive things in your Life, and be happy…. This disease Opened up my eyes to some very important things about my Life, it’s not all bad….

  2. sarah says:

    SHERI, I could have written the above comment. I am a RN and have had two employers treat me tremendously awful as well as ignoring my human rights. Although I filed complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that does not help the devastation of having all my “friends” and coworkers turn on me. I had been employed at one place for 12 years and thought they were a huge part of my life. The second place I was there for 4 years but it was such an accepting environment I told my manager (a RN) and my employers (6 Doctors!!! and I again was isolated and asked to resign. I can relate to your feelings about loss of confidence and second guessing yourself. I wish I had the answer. I have used up my savings and feel I can’t go back to nursing but am not qualified for anything else. One small thing that helped me a little was that there was one Doctor who valued my work at a previous job and not only told me but stood up to another Dr who disliked me. That helped validate that I have been a good nurse and the perception of other employers was not entirely true.
    You are not a failure, your employers and friends let you down. You are so right if we were physically sick we would get flowers and phone calls. I hope you find what you need.

  3. Jake says:

    I have bipolar II and GAD. I live with my grandma watching TV all day. I have quit every job I have ever had due to not being able to fill my hours of my contracts.

    I’m 26 years old and don’t know how to be an adult. Sive always been too messed up to learn how to manage my own life.

    Now I just count down the days.

  4. Mindy says:

    Jake, I know how you feel!! I am 25 and I cannot hold a job due to the fact that I have bipolar II, with and anxiety and panic attacks on top of it. The longest I’ve held a job has been this one I’m at right now, and April will make a year. My apartment lease is over at the end of March and I have to move back in with my family due to another health issue(I have to have shoulder surgery). So I will not be able to keep this job either. I’ve tried telling my employers and not telling them, either way it didn’t make a difference. They looked at it as I called off “too much”. I’d have dr notes for 95% of my call offs because I knew they’d want one since being sick was the reason I called off. Meds do not seem to help, they either make me literally pass out, gain weight, or turn me into a hyperactive person. There is no middle ground that I can find. I personally feel like a failure because my family doesn’t understand that I am trying so much harder than they see. All they see is that I’m 25, living with family and “mooching” because I don’t have a job :(

  5. James says:

    @ jake & mindy..

    I also have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety and feel exactly the same.

    Ive had several jobs since leaving school, all of which have been full time
    positions that i have decided to leave, either because i cant handle the constant stress/anxiety or have had grandiose ideas of how i could “better myself” (these never work and cause me even more stress), I honestly feel lost after 10+ years of trying to be a normal person.

    I have no idea whats next for me, im under a psych and am on
    medication which dosent really seem to be working (depakote). They keep adding anti-d’s which always make me manic. The only thing that actually calms me is diazepam and im only allowed 4 of those a month.
    (Thats 2 days worth for me, 10mg tablets).

    I hate the sitiation im in, trying to pay a mortgage on my own and not knowing wether my job is safe due to my mental illness and the stigma surrounding it.
    coming home to a cold and empty house dosent help my moods either.

    Guess i just came here to rant, so sorry for that, i have another psych appointment in a couple of hours. :/

    Stay strong folks!

    I guess i just posted here because other people’s posts made me feel a little glimer of hope, try to stay strong everyone. :)

  6. Ci n says:

    Wow. I guess I never realized my disorder was my employment issue. I work for like 4 mo the than I get let go for some stupid reason . How do we stop the cycle I can’t do this . I need money to live

  7. martha says:

    I suffer from bipolar and ptsd. All the jobs I’ve had I unfortunately told every employer. I get to work on time but when I’m manic I’m alot to handle and then of course I become very antisocial. Very extreme. I thought I was obligated for some stupid reason to tell them. Thank goodness I’m at a job right now that appears to understand. My word of advice don’t tell it will make you more stressed out and hate yourself more for having a mental illness.

  8. Renita says:

    I STRONGLY believe it is NOT a good thing to tell people, especially your employer about your struggles with mental illness. The working world can be very competitive these days and stigma still abounds. Unfortunately the media often fuels this stigma by reporting that a person who commited some terrible crime did so because of a mental illness. This tends to instill fear. People, especially employers are uncomfortable about what they don’t understand and they don’t like to take risks. Even though there are laws around discrimation in the workplace, etc managers, etc will still find ways around them, ie by “downsizing”, excluding. I work for an enforcement agency and I have also worked in Human Resources. Believe me when I tell you, they will always find ways to skirt the law when it suits them. Poverty will always exist and so will the stigma around mental illness. The best we can hope for is to reduce it by our BEHAVIOUR.

  9. Patrice says:

    I never tell at a job interview but have found telling the boss when I have to and advising the whole workplace stops the rumours and provides me with support when I need it.
    It also helps not to create excuses as to why I was sick eg migraine diarrhoea.
    I got sick of changing jobs years ago so I stick around and take support I need.

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