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Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

Keeping a job when you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder can be tough but these tips can make it easier. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

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.

How to Keep Your Job With 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 and Keeping the Job 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.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

146 thoughts on “Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Hi. I have only recently been diagnosed with bipolar. In my life time I have had over 35 jobs . I am niw 52 . Employment has been difficult for me but now I am on new medication I for once in my work life feel settled.

  2. I am a peer specialist. It my job to disclose I have bipolar disorder. This is by far the worst advise ever. It is things like this that encourages stigma around mental illness. Honesty is the best policy.

    1. I totally agree with you Lauree. When I put in for FMLA due to a month long bout with returning depression, I needed to disclose my bipolar diagnosis. It wasn’t a surprise to my boss that I needed the time off either. I tell everyone I am bipolar and offer advice to those who suffer from, not only bipolar disorder but other mental illnesses as well. If people have a problem, it is them who needs to be singled out and educated.

  3. I’ve had bipolar since I was 17. I’m now 52 and have had over 30 jobs. Which proves that I tried. I was a single mother also. At 2 jobs I had episodes at work. Basically losing touch with reality. I’ve been hospitalized 6 times. I take care of myself, take my meds but nothing works 100% when you have bipolar. I’m now 52 and work part time trying to do things I like. My life now is less stressful and my coping skills are better. I liked your article and just wanted to let you know my experience having bipolar and working. 🙂

  4. Natasha I have a question. What if you can’t just say that you’re sick without explaining what’s wrong with you? I don’t know but in my country you just can’t say that you’re sick and not bringing a certificate signed by a Dr. explaining which is the health issue that you have. I never could tell anybody about my bipolar problem. Luckily I have been so stable that I didn’t had to and I went to all my Dr’s appointments after work time. But now that I give birth things are kind of different in terms of my bipolar issues. So that’s my question.

    1. Hi Paola,

      I can’t really comment on another country’s requirements. What you might do though, is see if you can work with a doctor who will give you a note saying that you are ill, but just not specifying why. That way you have a note and your privacy.

      I hope that helps.

      – Natasha Tracy

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