When Bipolar Wrecks Your Work Life -- Dos and Don'ts

December 16, 2018 Natasha Tracy

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Bipolar can wreck your work life. It's just a fact. It can. If you've ever had a severe episode of depression or mania/hypomania, you know this. But what do you do when bipolar disorder wrecks your work life. Here are a few ideas.

Bipolar Disorder Can Wreck a Work Life, No Matter What Your Job Is

I am a contractor and I can tell you that bipolar disorder has negatively impacted my work in so many ways. Sometimes I'm slow. Sometimes I miss deadlines. Sometimes I'm not at my best. Sometimes it's really hard, if not impossible, for me to get back to clients. These are the kind of bipolar impacts that can wreck a work life.

Of course, try to limit the damage as much as possible. I try to make sure that no matter how bad my bipolar is on any given day, the clients don't know it. I try to ensure that I appear as functional as possible. This is easier for me as a contractor that hides behind a computer than it is for people who have in-person jobs, of course.

Nevertheless, we still face very similar challenges. What do you say to the boss? What do you say to coworkers? How do you explain what's happening? What do you do if you need a mental health day?

When Bipolar Wrecks Your Work Life, Do This

If you find bipolar disorder is wrecking your work life, do this:

  • Do make a plan for what you will do when bipolar disorder affects your work when you are well. This is the best time to think of solutions.
  • Do take sick days as needed. You need your mental health days because you are sick, just like anyone else could be. The fact that you're sick with bipolar disorder is incidental.
  • Do consider your privacy when talking to others. Consider carefully if you want your bipolar disorder to be known in the workplace. Remember, if you tell one person, the gossip mill may ensure that everyone knows very quickly.
  • Do get a discrete doctor's note if needed. You can get a doctor's note for mental illness. It doesn't have to say what you're sick for only that you can't come into the office. 
  • Do communicate with others. You don't need to communicate the specifics but if you're going to be late with something, it's better to let someone know as soon as possible rather than just letting a deadline float by as if you don't care or don't realize it.
  • Do consider being recognized as a person with a disability. Some people really need accommodations at work due to bipolar disorder. This is okay. It's illegal to discriminate against you based on this fact. That said, not all workplaces are so kind. Workplace stigma is real. Some people will find ways of penalizing you anyway. This is why you need to consider it carefully. Sometimes it's the right choice for a person and sometimes it isn't.
  • Do minimize stress at work. Stress will make your bipolar disorder worse. If there's a way you can reduce stress at work, do it.
  • Do expect bumps. You're likely not going to handle every bipolar-work decision perfectly. This is okay. You'll deal with it.
  • Do know you can still be a valuable employee. I'm the first person to admit that bipolar affects my work but this doesn't mean that I'm not a great employee and that I don't produce great work. I am and I do. It requires careful management of symptoms, expectations and work-health balance, but it can be done.
  • Do keep up with your treatment plan. Remember, treatment is there to keep your symptoms under control and that will only help with work.
  • Do maintain all aspects of your health. While bipolar disorder may be your biggest concern remember that all aspects of your health affect it. This means you need to keep up your bipolar routine, care for your sleep, eat well, exercise and so on.
  • Do consider changing jobs. Not all lines of work are going to be appropriate for a person with a severe mental illness. Consider transitioning into a different line of work if you need to.
  • Do leave work at work. You need a home life too so try to forget about work when you're at home.

When Bipolar Wrecks Your Work Life, Don't Do This

Consider these don'ts when bipolar is wrecking your work life:

  • Don't get burned out. If you're burned out you'll be out of commision for even longer and make the situation worse.
  • Don't justify your sick days by explaining too much. Just saying you're too sick to come into work should be enough. No one needs to know your specific symptoms. (See above if you need a doctor's note.)
  • Don't allow an information vacuum. When you don't say anything, people will insert their own narrative. Give people the information they need without disclosing too much.
  • Don't expect perfection. Remember, no one is perfect. Other people miss deadlines too. Don't beat yourself up about it.
  • Don't overload yourself at work. Don't accept more work than you can handle. Remember, you want to be a good employee, you don't need to be employee of the year.
  • Don't sacrifice health for work. Remember, if you're sick, you can't work or do anything else. Work is not worth ending up in the hospital.
  • Don't give up. I know it can seem at times like you can't dig yourself out of the hole bipolar disorder has put you in but you can. Take it slowly and step-by-step. You can do it.
  • Don't feel bad if you can't work. Some people can't work. Sometimes this period lasts for months and sometimes it lasts for years. This is just a fact of having a severe mental illness. Remember, sometimes looking after your mental health can be a full-time job.

Work Life-Wrecking Bipolar Disorder Tips

I suppose I could go on all day about the dos and don'ts of work and bipolar disorder. What are your tips? What are your dos and don'ts when bipolar wrecks your work life?

Also check out:

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2018, December 16). When Bipolar Wrecks Your Work Life -- Dos and Don'ts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 23 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

March, 11 2024 at 8:18 pm

Thank you so much for your article. I have had a bipolar diagnosis for over 20 years . I was recently "let go" from my 4th full-time position in 2 years.
Yes. I could certainly use some more work on recognizing and not denying my symptoms before they get unmanageable and lead to job loss.
This is a very good time for me to regroup and
get help to assist me on deciding where to go from here professionally. Thank you Natasha

Penny Dandrea
February, 7 2019 at 9:48 am

I understand, Beverly. I also became honest, at a Federal Government job. The way they got rid of me, the supervisor enlisted the help of a co worker to continue to confront, argue with...etc. it got so bad ( after 20 plus years), I was forced to retire. The day I left, everyone stood and clapped.

Beverly Griswold
December, 19 2018 at 9:49 pm

Wish I'd been able to read an article like this years ago. I tried the trust and honesty route and it wrecked everything. The ADA is supposed to protect people with disabilities, but many employers will find a way to get around the law. I wish I could sue my school system for what they did to me.
It still upsets me when I think of how my 30-year professional career ended. While others were retiring with countless accolades about how they touched the lives of those they taught, I was hastily ushered out under a cloud of shame. I was one of the best at what I did, but it all ended quickly without a single "thank you for your service".
It still hurts when I think about it. Even now - I tried sharing this article on Facebook and not one of my so-called friends has had a word to say about it.
Stop the stigma!?

Lizanne Corbit
December, 18 2018 at 12:09 am

This is truly such a helpful read. I am so glad to come across content like this, knowing that people out there who are in need can have access to it. I love your suggestions to take sick days when needed and communicate! These can be two that seem so obvious, but can be so overlooked, or we feel a lot of hesitancy around them. Thank you for sharing.

Steven B. Uhrik
December, 17 2018 at 11:23 pm

Excellent advice that could make the difference between keeping and losing a job. If the employer offers EAP (Employee Assistance Program), the EAP Counselor can also provide confidential help and support.

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