Living with bipolar disorder and juggling the challenges of work can be difficult. But with the right support and coping strategies in place, working can have life changing benefits for your mental and physical health.
The challenges of working with bipolar disorder
For many people with bipolar disorder, managing triggers and symptoms while trying to keep up with the demands of their job is difficult.
The lows of depression often lead to increased time off and lowered productivity, while the highs of mania can lead to problems with overcommitting or burn out.
Workplace stress, inconsistent schedules and communication issues can all take a toll on your mental health. Additionally, if your boss and colleagues don’t know about the challenges you face, it can be difficult to explain absences or access the right support at work.
The benefits of work for people with bipolar
Despite the challenges, experts say that the right type of work can be highly beneficial for people with bipolar disorder. Beyond giving you more financial control of your life, a job can provide structure and stability, improve your mental wellbeing and boost your confidence.
Whether you’re finding it hard to cope in your current role or looking for a new job, here are 6 tips for managing bipolar symptoms and succeeding at work:
1. Follow your treatment plan
Looking after your health should be top priority. When you invest in your physical and mental health, you’ll be better able to navigate the challenges in your job and work towards your goals.
It’s important to follow your treatment plan and keep appointments with your healthcare team, even if you’re feeling on top. Check in with your support people regularly about how your treatment is going – chat about what’s working well and what you’re struggling with.
Consider speaking to your boss about taking time off for mental health appointments and recovery when needed. They might be willing to make accommodations or flexible arrangements to support you.
2. Choose a career that works for you
Some job types and work environments may be triggering for you or make it difficult to manage your symptoms.
Try looking for work where you can use your strengths and skills and avoid major triggers. Speaking with an employment consultant may help you find opportunities that are the right fit for you.
While everyone has different wants and needs when it comes to work, some of the best jobs for people with bipolar disorder include:
- Jobs with regular hours – a structured work day might help you feel more stable and promote a healthy sleep routine.
- Remote work – working from home may help you manage symptoms better.
- Flexible jobs – a flexible work schedule can help you make the most of peak motivation and productivity while letting you rest when you need to.
- Low stress jobs – high stress and high pressure environments may trigger manic and depressive episodes.
3. Get support
If you’re finding it hard to cope at work or struggling to find a suitable job, support is available.
You can speak to your treating health professional, reach out to a local support group or call a helpline like BeyondBlue or Lifeline.
You may also be eligible for government-funded employment support such as Disability Employment Services.
What is DES? Disability Employment Services is a government funded program that helps people living with a disability or health condition find and keep a job.
As a participant, your employment consultant can help with things like:
- Finding suitable job opportunities and applying for jobs
- Workplace assessments and advice on how to redesign your role
- Accessing workplace modifications and assistive technologies
- Accessing mental health services
- Overcoming barriers you might face at work
4. Consider disclosing to your boss
Deciding whether or not to disclose your health condition to your employer is a personal decision. In Australia, you aren’t required to tell your boss about your condition unless it affects your ability to do the essential tasks of the job.
Some people find that disclosing helps them get the right support at work. Your employer may be willing to make changes in your role or work environment to help you feel safe and confident at work.
Disclosing can be a big decision. Consider seeking professional advice to think through the potential outcomes before speaking to your boss.
5. Ask for workplace modifications
Workplace modifications are changes in your job role or workplace environment that can help you feel more supported and confident at work.
The right accommodations can help you do your job well, manage your triggers better and get support when needed.
Workplace modifications are unique to your situation and needs. They may include things like:
- Working part time
- Working from home
- Starting earlier or later in the day
- Time off for health appointments
- Scheduled breaks throughout the day
- Access to time management and scheduling software
- Facing your desk towards a wall to minimise distractions
- Reducing your workload
6. Manage your stress
Stress can have a negative impact on your mental and physical health when it’s not managed properly. You might not be able to cut out sources of work-related stress completely, but there are many things you can do to help reduce stress.
Try these stress management techniques:
- Take breaks throughout the day
- Use relaxation techniques like meditation and mindfulness
- Go for a walk during your lunch break
- Talk to your support network
- Use time management tools to help manage your workload
- Avoid over committing – take time to think about commitments instead of saying yes straight away
- Be realistic when setting deadlines
- Leave your work at work – set boundaries around when you start and stop work
Looking after your mental and physical health will put you in the best position to perform well at work. When challenges arise, don’t forget to take time to look after yourself and seek help. With the right support you can thrive in the workplace, grow your confidence and achieve your career goals.