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.

(Visited 41,297 times, 22 visits today)
This entry was posted in Coping, Depression – Breaking Bipolar, How Others See Bipolar, Impact of Bipolar, The Price of Publicly Being Bipolar, Understanding Mental Illness and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

122 Responses to Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

  1. valerie says:

    I NEED to believe God wants me to have this disorder to learn what it is like so I’m going head first unto it because the more I run the harder it’s going to be and the more lying I will do. If I don’t believe this…then I validate that God messed up and perhaps that I am less than another. By comparison and mixed judgement and confusion is one actual more or less than another.
    Love you all. I hope you don’t ignore what you are. Reach for yourself.

  2. jeffv says:

    I’ve dealt with BPD my entire life. Only recently diagnosed. The only way I have made it through was to find a career that actually caters in a way to my moods. Not saying it’s not trying at times. I got into the HVAC trade. I work out of a service van and see multiple customers for short periods of time. Works well for me. It’s hard to to find a niche for everyone but I tell you it’s possible.
    I write this now going through a major depressive episode but it gives me something to hold onto. My family and supporting them. Yes it’s extremely hard right now. But I can power through. I will be here tomorrow, if only for my kids is my mantra. Brothers and sisters out there hang in there. You have to for your loved ones.

  3. Bibiana says:

    I feel very blessed to have part-time work that is meaningful to me. I also go to a day program. Although I wish I could work fulltime, I am proud of the fact that I do my best and am appreciated. There was a time I was not even able to do this much.

  4. Ramone says:

    I think this post about working with bipolar over steps a key ingredient is surviving this disorder & maintaining any hope of a productive life style; and is MEDS & plenty of therapy!!!!!!!! I hope no one gets the impression that you are fine and well to act like you aren’t sick and try these steps instead of seeking help and advice from a professional. Most jobs give you a limited number of sick days (3-4). Jobs hire people because they need them to work.
    My suggestion is follow the regimain set by your doctor & keep all visits with you therapist and understand the ups and downs of thus disease. It can be very dangerous for you and others if you take on imployment in denial of your illness.

  5. Kbs says:

    If you don’t let your employee know, can’t sue for discrimination if and when that occurs. If you let them know you can. I agree with youll be discriminated against maybe but is it really worth it to not tell an employee and then have to tell them when your at a really bad place- for example extreme mania- and they don’t let You have needed time off? Better to let them know that’s just my opinion

  6. Shawn Rintoul says:

    I am really scared. I have been diagnosed bipolar for approximately 10 years now, but finally got on ‘proper’ medication about 1.2 years ago. Since 2004 I have been through 4 separate jobs, all lasting about 3.r5 years. Am reaching 2.5 years at the current job and am starting to see my credibility go down again. My memory sucks. My work product is constantly being called sub-par and I feel constantly like just abandoning my responsibilities and going homeless. The only thing that keeps me going is my two boys (8 and 9). I am divorced and get them 50% of the time. It scares me that not only may my ex try to get full custody due to my mood issues, but that I am not as good of a father as I want to be. I don’t do much physical due to loss of interest in things I used to love, plus a bad back that has been diagnosed inoperable (which is why I can’t work out any longer, which while I was doing the bipolar was not effecting my work capabilities). My job requires consistency and high-quality. I have great credentials in a field that requires a high level of skill, but the inconsistencies caused by bipolar is making me think I need to completely change careers. I am so scared, which of course causes my work product to go down again. Have been out on disability multiple times over the last 8 years for this. I have never told my employers I am bipolar, but am now wondering if that would be a good idea or not. At least they would know why I am having issues, but with what I do I am afraid they may decide I cannot perform current job. I am in a no-fault state, so they don’t even have to have a ‘good’ reason to terminate. Has anyone told their work and had a positive experience? Have contacted my Psychiatrist to get in ASAP, but of course I am traveling for work this week and will not be home until next week.

  7. Carol Bennett says:

    Been suffering with Bipolar daily struggle.

  8. Leanne says:

    I just read through the comments and was so sad to hear the different struggles. A close family member of mine has Bipolar and I’ve seen firsthand what a hideous thing it can be. But I’ve also seen God bring us through it and I don’t believe it is God’s will for anyone to suffer it. In the Bible Jesus healed people and wanted them whole and well. He wants the same today (Hebrews 13 v 8). The Bible says the devil comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life. If we take God at His word, He will transform us – with God all things are possible (Luke 1v37). I pray for you all. x

  9. Stacy says:

    I have been trying to handle my diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a few years now. Out of four years, I am on my second big breakdown. My boss is about to fire me for the time off I have to take for this. I am supposed to be trying new medicines, but I can’t do my job or even drive when I’m taking new medications due to the side effects. I don’t understand how we are expected to manage our disorder and hold down a full time job at the same time. If I am fired, me and my children will lose everything. Prayers please.

  10. Deanna says:

    I have lived with bipolar majority of my life but was not properly diagnosed until 10 years ago. I have been mostly stable on my medication regimen for 8 years. I have been in counselling for 16 years. I have had my current job in health care for 13 years. Nearly been fired twice but managed to come back. It’s not easy. I fight every day to get out of bed, go to work, take care of two autistic kids but somehow I manage. It is possible and it’s okay when I or anyone with bipolar has a melt down and needs a little time.

  11. Belinda says:

    I have had bipolar all my life and I was diagnosed in 2010 with BPD. That was the year I had found my brother dead in his home. It has been very hard for me to hold down a job, I worked at Hardees for 3 and half years and I was fired from there because of a bipolar episode. I could not afford my medicine so I was without for like 2 weeks and for that I was fired. It seemed my body was shutting down, I became suicidal and I would black out and find that when I had come back to reality I had hurt myself. It would be different everytime I blacked out. I struggle everyday to get up out of bed so I have decided to take these diet pills that are over the counter to give me energy. I have found that taking these are making me angry. I fear that maybe just today I have lost my job again. I struggle everyday that I wake up and most days I lay there wishing I would just go to sleep and not wake up…..

  12. Lacy Burchfield says:

    I have Bi-polar,Anxiety,and Depression, I am about ready to lose another job I don’t know what to do, I would love to Quit,but I need the money, help please! ! Thanks

  13. John says:

    Any chance you could email me i would love to talk to you

  14. Hi John,

    I’m not sure if you’re talking to me, but I’m not available by email. Sorry.

    - Natasha Tracy

  15. Sherrie says:

    I have had depression since I was 15. I was 22 when I was first prescribed an antidepressant. Since that time, I have been on many different antidepressants without much relief. I have worked in health care for many years but I could never hold a job for longer than approximately 2 years. I completed a masters degree in 2012. For the past 3 years I have had severe depression. I could barely work & after work and on weekends I could not function. I was practically bed bound. I had to quit work in February due to depression. At that time I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar 2. At the urging of my PCP, about 3 months ago, I had a complete psychological evaluation. I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder. My primary care physician prescribes my medications as recommended by my psychologist.
    I am feeling some better but I still have episodes of depression that is unexpected and can put me in bed for several days.
    I’m currently working 4 hours each week. My student loans are on forbearance and my spouse is struggling to pay our bills. I see bankruptcy in the near future.
    I also have severe anxiety (my hands shake so bad), ADD, hypothyroidism and vitamin D deficiency.
    I am terrified to go to work or even leave my house. I feel safe only at home. I can’t even go grocery shopping. Is fear of working and anxiety normal symptoms of bipolar 2 disorder?

  16. Lynne says:

    I am struggling with BP2. I am being treated by a reputable psychiatrist ans therapist. I takw my meds properly, exercise and do all the other recommendations. Part of my problem is being on my job as a lead manager for over 30 years. Bossed have seen me at my best. My pattern has depression that caused me to stay home 2 days outof 15-20 work days. How do I het this better as in makw it to woek daily or am I dreaming of the old days. I am not Medicare age, have a daughter who just started college, so I feel my options are limited. Any ideas

  17. Theresa says:

    I guess I have been bipolar all my life but just recently diagnosed since I have been so bad for so long this time and making arrangements for Partial Hospitalization Program or Intense Outpatient Program, I have an intake for IOP tomorrow. I just started a part-time job two months ago and recently have been out of work with a doctor’s note for a week and a half and the doctor will extend the note, I guess until I get stabilized. So, just to make my mind race even more… what do I do until I am stabilzed, I don’t think FMLA applies because I am part-time and only been there 2 months but on the other hand under ADA I am afraid to tell my employer, etc. HELP! What do I do? Has anyone had similar situation?

  18. Dan says:

    Anybody else remember their very first breakdown/moment of sudden change? I was 15 and 2months old suddenly at lunchtime at school… i suddenly had to sit down on my own and felt ultra sad… i didnt know wtf was goin on. Thought i was sick. But i also lost interest in sport I loved “yesterday”. Diagnosed at 33. Gets worse as get older. Had lots of friends who died in late 90s and got really down n out about it cant stop thinkn of death. As soon as i get up i get depressed bout work. just stay home play guitar. i wake up for work depression starts. I want to stay home n maybe make stuff to sell. Hate people all dumb users as well.

  19. sarah says:

    Ive struggled with keeping work consistent all my life.between anxiety and depression and then late last year was diagnosed with bipolar 2 i have struggled to have motivation to keep going to do a full weeks work.when i go home and on days off id have no interest or desire to do anything other than sleep.the quality of life,of not having a dreary,boring,sad life is difficult to fight.

  20. Tresa says:

    These mental illnesses have remained a dirty little secret for too long! If you have any choice, please tell your employer what you’re struggling with – things will only get better when we stop letting shame direct our actions! I really do understand the challenges – I’ve been Bi-Polar 2 my entire life and was finally diagnosed with depression when I was in my thirties – with the help of medication and a lot of reading and research on my own, I catch glimpses of what “normal” might feel like. I have to support my family and I miss more work than I’d like but I give 110% when I’m there and have reached the place in my life and illness that my attitude is this is how I’m made and I deserve the same consideration and allowances as someone who is on kidney dialysis (one illness I can think of that would require extra time off) or having chemo treatments – and if an employer cannot give me that same respect, then I’m in the wrong job. Or maybe we should talk things over in court . . . if that’s what it takes! Would my family suffer? Absolutely! Would we lose things that are important to us? Yes! Bankruptcy, foreclosure, reposition – probably! But those are just things and if you’re so miserable you’re ready to go to sleep and never wake up, those things don’t mean a thing! Not only have I struggled with these isssues my whole life but I’ve watched as my son AND daughter have fought the same struggles – and that’s been worse than anything I’ve gone through myself! Discrimation is discrimination – and being afraid and ashamed of who you are is not the way to live your life!

  21. Claire says:

    I have been reading these comments and sad as they are, I feel there are people here who understand. My heart goes out to you all. I have struggled with bi-polar I for all of my adult life but was only diagnosed a couple of years ago. I left my last job after having a complete breakdown and was signed off work for a year. It has taken me two years to get back to what passes for normal for me. Financially we have been going backwards because my income from the part time work I did helped. This has been the last in a very long line of quit jobs (all jobs that in this current economic climate you would hold onto with both hands) and breakdowns and that is very depressing in itself. Frustratingly part of me thinks I don’t have bipolar and I am just a flakey person. But even when I do what I love (which is crafting for the markets) I become mentally exhausted and apathetic so can’t even do that. I have been looking into claiming total and permanent disability from my superannuation fund. My psychiatrist says he will support me in whatever way he can because it is apparent it has been getting worse as I get older, but these insurance companies can be tricky little buggers, and I’m not sure I can push through the apathy and have the stamina for trying to prove myself to them – how they must love bi-polars. Them: “No, go away” Me: “OK”

  22. Bob Roach says:

    I’ve been reading the comments and am glad to see that you all can talk about your issues with bpd.
    I’ve been bipolar my whole life and not diagnosed properly until 5 years ago. I was treated for depression and anxiety for a long time which only helped me make more bad decisions and keep me “manic” and out of touch with reality.
    I’m now coming up on my 59th birthday and can truly say that the reality of getting old, bipolar, financially unstable for the future and unable to find a job that I fit well in is pretty depressing. I’ve isolated myself from most everything and everyone because of my diagnosis. God blessed me with a wonderful loving wife that stands by me and I hope that she will continue to. God bless you all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>