5 tips for managing bipolar disorder in the workplace 

If you or somebody that you love is struggling with bipolar disorder, then chances are you are aware of just how much this can impact daily life, including at work.

We’ve compiled a list of our top tips for managing bipolar disorder in the workplace to help those having a difficult time. 

What is Bipolar?

Bipolar is a mental health condition that impacts an individual’s mood, resulting in extreme mood swings. 

These mood swings range from mania (high moods) to severe depression (low moods). 

Before being called bipolar disorder, this disorder used to be known as manic depression.

Bipolar disorder is not uncommon, affecting one in every fifty Australians. 

Most people develop bipolar disorders during their teenage years or early adulthood, but they can also develop later in life.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can affect one’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviour. 

Mood episodes have a significant impact on many people’s lives daily. 

Having extreme highs or depression can make it challenging to maintain relationships, take care of yourself, work, and engage in social activities. 

Therefore, getting help is essential if mood changes affect your daily life.

What are the symptoms of bipolar?

Each case of bipolar may present differently but generally speaking, the symptoms of bipolar can be split into two categories. 

Those two categories are depressive symptoms and mania symptoms. 

Depressive symptoms may include:

  • Having a bad mood, feeling down, or feeling hopeless
  • Low energy
  • Lacking motivation
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Memory or concentration problems
  • A feeling of worthlessness or self-hatred
  • Excessive or insufficient appetite
  • Finding it difficult to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours

Mania symptoms may include:

  • A feeling of extreme happiness or elation
  • Feeling very energetic
  • Fast-talking
  • A racing mind
  • Being full of exciting new ideas
  • Sleeping poorly
  • Not eating
  • Quickly becoming irritated or agitated
  • Concentration or focus problems
  • Making rash or risky decisions
  • Ignoring the consequences of big decisions
  • Spending a lot of money, gambling or consuming a lot of alcohol and drugs that you wouldn’t normally do

Tips for managing bipolar disorder in the workplace 

Aim for stable and regular hours 

Many people with bipolar disorders are attracted to project-oriented careers, where they are very busy for short periods of time. On the face of it, this makes sense as it fits in with the pace of the mental disorder. However, it provides too much chaos to the workplace in the long run and opting for consistent hours, and a regular work schedule is a far more manageable choice. Full-time hours can be too much for some people suffering from bipolar; if this is the case for you, consider taking on a part-time role with regular days or opting for a work-from-home option for some of your allocated work days. 

Make sure to take breaks 

Taking a break when feeling overwhelmed is a good idea for anyone, particularly those with bipolar disorders. It would be particularly beneficial if your workplace had break spaces and was close to outdoor areas where you could step into nature and take a moment to regenerate. It’s also a good idea to move around on your breaks, take a walk or take the stairs instead of the elevator. 

Have an open conversation with management 

It can benefit your company and you to talk to your HR and management team about living with bipolar disorder. This will allow the company to understand your behaviour, needs and expectations regarding your disorder. This is especially true during difficult times at work. In addition, a transparent relationship with your manager can help them support your mental health. If you don’t feel comfortable directly communicating with your manager, you may be able to request an HR meeting for this discussion instead.

Take your medications as prescribed.

Many people who have bipolar disorders are tempted to stop taking their medication when they are experiencing mania. This is often because they find themselves more productive in the workplace, full of ideas and energy. It is, however, important to always take your medications as prescribed; mania will lead to depression. 

Make sure you are getting support. 

To manage your health and overcome any challenges you might be facing, various supports and services are available. Among them are:

  • Mental health helplines – you can speak to a counsellor over the phone or via the internet.
  • Support groups – connect with other people who have similar experiences through support groups. Find out if there are any support groups in your area by asking your doctor.
  • The Disability Employment Services program – funded by the government, it helps people with an injury, illness, or disability find jobs, including those with bipolar disorder. A professional agency can assist you in finding meaningful employment and thriving at work.

If you are in a role that is not working for you, it may be a good idea to consider a new role.

Many workplaces can make reasonable adjustments for your disorder, and there’s no reason to put yourself through too much difficulty trying to work in a place that isn’t suited to your needs.

Professional agencies that provide disability employment services can help you find a role best suited to you and your needs.