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How to hold down a job with bipolar disorder

When you’re living with bipolar disorder, severe mood changes and sensitivity to stress can make it hard to cope at work at times. 

Manic episodes can make you feel energetic and productive, but they can also lead to overcommitting and burn out. During depressive episodes, it may be hard to get out of bed some days, let alone keep up with the demands of your job. 

Even with the challenges, working can be highly beneficial for people with bipolar disorder. The right job can provide a sense of structure, routine and purpose. With good supports and coping strategies in place, working can even assist your mental health and recovery.

What are the best jobs for people with bipolar?

Everyone’s needs are different when it comes to work. If you’re looking to find a job or change careers, it can be helpful to speak with an employment consultant. 

They can help you think through your strengths, skills and challenges to find job types that are suited to you.

The best jobs for people with bipolar will allow you to use your strengths and effectively manage your challenges.

Some important factors to consider include:

    • Schedule – many people living with bipolar disorder work best with a regular schedule during daytime hours. Shift work, especially during night time hours, is generally not recommended. If you’re struggling to keep up with full time hours, consider part time work instead.
    • Environment – fast paced, high stress environments may be a source of stress and anxiety. On the other hand, a quiet and relaxed work environment may help you maintain balance.
  • Flexibility – the ups and downs of bipolar disorder can feel unpredictable. Working in a more flexible role may allow you to adjust your workload or reduce your stressors when needed.

Looking after your health

Looking after your physical and mental wellbeing is important for everyone, but for people with bipolar disorder it can be especially impactful. Speak with your doctor and mental health care team about healthy habits and coping strategies you can use to protect your health.

Particularly, think about:

  • Sleep – having enough sleep and regular sleep hours can help you stay grounded and balanced. Try developing a healthy sleep routine to improve the quality of your sleep. Reducing caffeine intake, limiting screen use before bedtime and relaxation techniques can all help.
  • Exercise – physical activity is a great mood booster, and it can also help you sleep better at night. Speak to your doctor about an exercise schedule that works for you. Incorporating exercise during work hours can be helpful. Try taking a walk during lunch break or sitting on an exercise ball at your desk.
  • Diet – eating a nutritious diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and omega-3 can help with your mood and energy levels. Limit your intake of sugary foods, alcohol and caffeine.

Workplace coping strategies

Understanding your triggers and symptoms is an important step towards more control and confidence at work. Try keeping a mood diary to notice patterns and common triggers. Then, work with your therapist to develop coping strategies that minimise the triggers and support your day to day well being.

Here are some ways to manage bipolar at work:

  • Take regular breaks throughout the day
  • Use relaxation techniques like mindfulness and deep breathing
  • Listen to relaxing music while you work
  • Create a routine at work and stick to it as much as possible
  • Avoid over committing – use a calendar or scheduling app to manage your time

Coping strategies like the ones above can make a big difference at work, but there still might be times when symptoms get out of hand. 

It’s important to continue with your treatment plan, even when you’re feeling on top, and to reach out for help when you need to. Staying connected to friends, family and your healthcare team can help you get support when you need it.

Support to stay in work

If you’re struggling to cope at work, it’s important to reach out for help. You can talk to your supervisor or HR department, if you feel comfortable doing so. You can also get support at no cost from government-funded programs such as Disability Employment Services (DES).

What is DES? Providers of DES can help you access workplace accommodations to make you cope better in your job. They can also refer you to mental health services and other supports that might help. Providers can work with you and your employer, or just you, to get the right supports in place.

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes in your workplace environment or schedule that help you do your job properly and safely. In Australia, employers are required to make reasonable adjustments for employees.

Reasonable adjustments are tailored to your unique needs. Examples include:

  • Working from home
  • Part time work
  • Time off for mental health appointments
  • Flexible schedule or deadlines
  • Reducing your workload
  • Redesigning your workstation

You can ask your employer directly for adjustments, or you can get support through a Disability Employment Services provider. You and your employer may even be eligible for funding to make some types of adjustments.

Having a successful career with bipolar

Bipolar symptoms can make holding down a job challenging at times. The good news is there are many supports and services out there to help you succeed. Many people who live with bipolar disorder lead meaningful and fulfilling work lives. If you’re finding it hard to cope at work, it’s important to reach out for help and look after your health. Having the right supports in place can make all the difference.

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