- Five Awesome Job Ideas for People With Bipolar Disorder
- What Are Some of the Best Jobs for People With Bipolar Disorder?
- Making Changes in Your Job
- Thriving in College With Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder and College Experience
- Tips for college students with Bipolar Disorder
- Managing Bipolar Disorder and Work
- Helping Someone with Bipolar Disorder
- Dealing with a loved one’s bipolar disorder isn’t easy. This guide will help you navigate the challenges and support your friend or family member.
- Bipolar disorder and the family
- Convincing a person with bipolar disorder to see a doctor
- Supporting a loved one during bipolar disorder treatment
- Watch for warning signs of bipolar disorder relapse
- Coping with mania and depression: Tips for family and friends
- Taking care of yourself when a loved one has bipolar disorder
- Can I continue Working with Bipolar Disorder?
- Bipolar Disorder and Mental Capacity
- Bipolar Disorder and Physical Capacity
- Applying for Disability with Bipolar Disorder
- Holding Down a Job—With Bipolar
- Employment services for people with bipolar disorder
- Job accommodations: Perspectives from people with bipolar disorder
Five Awesome Job Ideas for People With Bipolar Disorder
What Are Some of the Best Jobs for People With Bipolar Disorder?
Many of us who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have difficulty maintaining gainful employment. After all, having this illness is a full-time job by itself – one that requires medication, therapy, and regular doctor appointments.
Medication side effects, mood swings, low energy, mental confusion, and social anxiety can make it challenging to perform in a traditional job setting. Plus, bipolar disorder causes an emotional and mental instability that is not well-received in corporate America. The culture is just too unforgiving of “people like us.”
One of the greatest struggles I have seen among those of us who have bipolar disorder is managing the illness while still making ends meet.
Many of us are on disability, but let’s be honest – it’s not enough to live on. Others do not qualify and find themselves unable to sustain a job for any continued length of time.
Whatever your situation may be, chances are you are under constant financial stress if you can’t keep a job – which only makes symptoms worse. This makes it even more impossible to work. It can become a vicious cycle.
If you have stable employment at a job you enjoy; one that pays you well and takes good care of you – bravo! If not, I want to share with you my top five best jobs for people with bipolar disorder.
Of course, this is one of my favorite jobs for people with bipolar disorder. I am living the dream as a professional writer, and I love to encourage people to pursue this profession.
Writing is my passion, and I love what I do. I focus my work on writing about mental health and addiction. I enjoy connecting with organizations who need my services. Also, I have found a niche where I can share my experience, strength, and hope with others who are seeking solutions to mental health issues. Honestly, I consider this a true blessing.
I work from home, I set my hours, and I am my own boss. Being self-employed gives direction. Helping others gives me purpose. Plus, it is a great confidence builder to know that I can be fully self-supporting using nothing more than my own bipolar brain. It also gives me control. When I have a depressive episode, I can take time off that I need to take care of myself without worrying about what the boss will think. I am the boss!
Do you love to write? If so, there are plenty of opportunities out there for you to write from home. All you need is a scoop of talent with a side of motivation. There are thousands of jobs available for writers on any topic you can imagine.
Just think about it. Everything you read on the internet – from woodworking to internet marketing to gardening, parenting, scrapbooking, cooking, and yoga (and everything in between!) – is written by someone. Many of these someones are freelance writers. You could be one too!
You May Also Like:Are People With Bipolar Disorder Eligible for Disability Benefits?
Entrepreneur Selling Products
There are tons of perks for running your own business. (I have already named a few). Believe me, when I tell you – there are plenty of business opportunities out there to make good money without working a full-time job. (I know because I have done many of them and made a good income in the process.)
For example, most of us who have bipolar disorder are creative geniuses. There is something about our illness that gives us a unique ability to create beautiful paintings, amazing crafts, stunning sculptures, and other unique works of art.
You can make your own products and sell them at local markets or online on sites like Etsy. In addition to art; you can make soaps, banana bread, jellies, candles or whatever your heart desires.
Making Changes in Your Job
Some people with bipolar disorder find their current job just isn’t a good fit. Maybe it’s too stressful or the schedule is too inflexible. Maybe it doesn’t let them get enough sleep, or involves shift work that could worsen their condition. If you think your job is hurting your health, it’s time to make some changes. Here are some things to consider:
- Decide what you really need from your job. Do you need to reduce your responsibilities? Do you need extra breaks during the day to reduce stress, or need time off during the work week to keep doctor or therapist appointments?
- Make decisions carefully. People with bipolar disorder are prone to acting impulsively. Think through the effects of quitting your job — both for yourself and possibly for your family. Talk over your feelings with your family, therapist, or health care provider.
- Look into financial assistance. If you do need to take time off because of your bipolar disorder, see if your employer has disability insurance, or look into Social Security Disability Insurance, which will provide some income while you recover. You can also look into the Family and Medical Leave Act. Ask your doctor or therapist for advice.
- Go slowly. Returning to work after you’ve taken time off can be stressful. Think about starting in a part-time position, at least until you’re confident that your bipolar disorder has stabilized. Some people find that volunteer work is a good way to get back into the swing of things.
Thriving in College With Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Disorder and College Experience
Having a healthy college experience begins long before you haul your belongings up to your dorm room on move-in day. In fact, it even begins long before you have sent your acceptance letter. The first step in surviving and thriving in college is believing you can.
Bipolar disorder does present a person with plenty of struggles, and learning how to manage this disorder is vital, but it does not have to keep you from pursuing your dream.
These practical tools can help you prepare and plan for a successful college career and beyond.
As soon as you start the visits to prospective universities, keep in mind that this will be your home for the next few years and the resources a college offers will be important in your decision-making. Inquire about health and counseling services offered at the university/college. Most institutions offer individual counseling at no additional charge, and some even provide psychiatric services. Consider your timeline and expectations, and be flexible. Not all college students complete their degrees in four years. Find out your options before committing to a school. Your initial plan may be to attend full-time, but you may eventually decide to switch to part-time, so choose a school that allows for this.
Stress is a major trigger for bipolar episodes. One freedom that college brings is the amount of free time you will suddenly have since unlike your high schools years, you won’t be in class all day; however, this is also one of the greatest challenges of college life. Since structure is crucial for someone with bipolar disorder, the transition from high school to college can take you by surprise. To take control of your time, write down your schedule for the week, including study times, breaks, social events and any other commitments you have. The next step is to stick to it, including those study breaks. Even if you feel like you are on a roll in the middle of that French lit paper, still take the break that you had planned on, because it will help your focus in subsequent study slots.
Tips for college students with Bipolar Disorder
One of the fundamental keys to managing the college course load is to work ahead. Map out the entire semester of deadlines and exams as soon as you get each syllabus. Because you cannot always predict when you will have manic or depressive symptoms, leaving studying to the last minute could be detrimental if your thoughts are racing or if you can barely get out of bed the day of an exam. Thus, adhere to your schedule.
Some stress management skills include doing things you enjoy, using deep breathing, or visualizing a calming scene. You can also create some short positive phrases you can say to yourself in a time of distress.
Monitor your mood with a daily log that includes the highs and lows that you experience. Also keep track of suicidal thoughts on the log and the amount of sleep you get each night. The purpose of the log is to be aware of the patterns your body, mind and emotions follow, and to be proactive if something is out of line. For example, if you see that you have gotten three hours of sleep the past four nights you might need to call your psychiatrist.
Make sure you are religiously taking your medication. In addition, abstaining from alcohol use is necessary. Not only does alcohol have a negative impact on the disorder itself, it is dangerous to use along with your medication. This does not mean that you cannot have fun; just opt for something non-alcoholic like soda or juice.
College is the first time that a student is able to use a credit card without the close supervision of his or her parents. With limited or no financial guidance, combined with the impulsivity and inability to make wise choices in a state of mania, your best bet is to refrain from using a credit card. Go with cash or a debit card instead.
Get your sleep! This is often a challenge for college students. Maintaining your circadian rhythm, however, is essential to your well-being. The most effective preventive measure you can take regarding sleep patterns is to consistently go to bed and wake up at the same time. In the moment you may want to spend time with your friends in the dorms, but think long-term. Ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that would happen if I stay up late?” and “What is the worst thing that would happen if I go to bed on time?”
The answer to the first question might be hospitalization. Lack of sleep can lead to a manic episode, and ending up in the hospital may lead you to delay your college degree. Making the small sacrifice of keeping your bedtime may not be the most fun decision at the time, but it is well worth it.
Change is difficult, so surround yourself with supportive people. At first, your support system may be your family and friends from your hometown. It may also include a therapist at the counseling center as you walk through this new period of life.
Recognize your limits, but also realize that you are unique, with many strengths and weaknesses. Shame may creep in when it seems like you are not “as good as” other students around you, who can handle more.
However, you are someone of great value, and what makes you unique will give you opportunities that only you can fulfill.1
You have been called to thrive. Take the call!
Managing Bipolar Disorder and Work
There is no one-size-fits-all job for anyone. This is also true for people with bipolar disorder.
Instead, people with the condition should look for work that suits them as an individual. Here are some things to consider when deciding what kind of job is right for you:
What’s the work environment like?
Will this job support your lifestyle and help you grow as an individual, or will it be too challenging in terms of stress and erratic hours?
For many people with bipolar disorder, a quiet and relaxed workspace can help them to maintain regular schedules which can improve overall functioning.
What’s the schedule like?
Part-time work with an adaptable schedule can be helpful for people with bipolar disorder. It can also be helpful to work during the day.
Overnight and night shifts, or jobs that require you to be on call at night, may not be a good idea because sleep is very important. Maintaining a normal sleep/wake pattern can be beneficial with bipolar disorder.
What will your co-workers be like?
Seek a job where your co-workers have values in line with your own, and who also embrace work-life balance, as this is important to your overall health and well-being.
Having supportive co-workers is also helpful for feeling understood and coping during stressful situations, so seek out those that will support you.
Is the job creative?
Many people with bipolar disorder do best when they have a job where they can be creative. It can be helpful to find a job where you can be creative at work or a job that gives you enough free time for creative projects.
Once you’ve answered these questions, you should dig a bit deeper to try to better understand yourself so you find a job you’d enjoy.
Think about your:
- strengths and abilities
- personality traits
- physical health
- limits, triggers, and barriers
Once you narrow down your job choices, do some more in-depth career research. You can look at O*NET to learn more about each job’s characteristics, including:
- working duties
- required skills
- required education or training
- required license or certificate
- usual work hours
- work conditions (physical demands, environment, and stress level)
- salary and benefits
- opportunities to advance
- employment outlook
If you can’t find a job that suits you, perhaps you may want to consider starting your own business. You can create your own job that allows for more creativity and flexibility than you may find if you work for someone else.
However, running your business has its own set of challenges. Depending on what you feel you need, you may prefer a regular structured schedule if you’re living with bipolar disorder.
Helping Someone with Bipolar Disorder
Dealing with the ups and downs of bipolar disorder can be difficult—and not just for the person with the illness. The moods and behaviors of a person with bipolar disorder affect everyone around—especially family members and close friends. It can put a strain on your relationship and disrupt all aspects of family life During a manic episode, you may have to cope with reckless antics, outrageous demands, explosive outbursts, and irresponsible decisions. And once the whirlwind of mania has passed, it often falls on you to deal with the consequences. During episodes of depression, you may have to pick up the slack for a loved one who doesn’t have the energy to meet responsibilities at home or work.
The good news is that most people with bipolar disorder can stabilize their moods with proper treatment, medication, and support. Your patience, love, and understanding can play a significant in your loved one’s treatment and recovery. Often, just having someone to talk to can make all the difference to their outlook and motivation. But caring for a person with bipolar disorder can also take a toll if you neglect your own needs, so it’s important to find a balance between supporting your loved one and taking care of yourself.
Other ways to help someone with bipolar disorder
You can also support your loved one by:
Learning about bipolar disorder. Learn everything you can about the symptoms and treatment options. The more you know about bipolar disorder, the better equipped you’ll be to help your loved one and keep things in perspective.
Encouraging the person to get help. The sooner bipolar disorder is treated, the better the prognosis, so urge your loved one to seek professional help right away. Don’t wait to see if they will get better without treatment.
Being understanding. Let your friend or family member know that you’re there if they need a sympathetic ear, encouragement, or assistance with treatment. People with bipolar disorder are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t want to feel like a burden to others, so remind the person that you care and that you’ll do whatever you can to help.
Showing patience. Getting better takes time, even when a person is committed to treatment. Don’t expect a quick recovery or a permanent cure. Be patient with the pace of recovery and prepare for setbacks and challenges. Managing bipolar disorder is a lifelong process.
The importance of support in bipolar disorder recovery
People with bipolar disorder do better when they have support from family members and friends. They tend to recover more quickly, experience fewer manic and depressive episodes, and have milder symptoms.
Bipolar disorder and the family
Living with a person who has bipolar disorder can cause stress and tension in the home. On top of the challenge of dealing with your loved one’s symptoms and their consequences, family members often struggle with feelings of guilt, fear, anger, and helplessness. Ultimately, the strain can cause serious relationship problems. But there are better ways to cope.
The first step to successfully dealing with bipolar disorder is for families to learn to accept the illness and its difficulties. When you’re feeling frustrated or guilty, remember that bipolar disorder isn’t anyone’s fault. Accepting bipolar disorder involves acknowledging that things may never again be “normal.” Treatment can make a huge difference for your loved one, but it may not take care of all symptoms or impairments. To avoid disappointment and resentments, it’s important to have realistic expectations. Expecting too much of your family member is a recipe for failure. On the other hand, expecting too little can also hinder recovery, so try to find a balance between encouraging independence and providing support.
Tips for coping with bipolar disorder in the family
Accept your loved one’s limits – Your loved one with bipolar disorder can’t control their moods. They can’t just snap out of a depression or get a hold of themselves during a manic episode. Neither depression nor mania can be overcome through self-control, willpower, or reasoning. So telling your loved one to “Stop acting crazy” or to “Look on the bright side” won’t help.
Accept your own limits – You can’t rescue your loved one with bipolar disorder, nor can you force them to take responsibility for getting better. You can offer support, but ultimately, recovery is in the hands of the person with the illness.
Reduce stress – Stress makes bipolar disorder worse, so try to find ways to reduce stress in your loved one’s life. Ask how you can help and volunteer to take over some of the person’s responsibilities if needed. Establishing and enforcing a daily routine—with regular times for getting up, having meals, and going to bed—can also reduce family stress.
Communicate openly – Open and honest communication is essential to coping with bipolar disorder in the family. Share your concerns in a loving way, ask your loved one how they’re feeling, and make an effort to truly listen—even if you disagree with your loved one or don’t relate to what’s being said.
Supporting a person with bipolar disorder
What you can say that helps:
- “You’re not alone in this. I’m here for you.”
- “I understand that it’s your illness that causes these thoughts and feelings.”
- “You may not believe it now, but the way you’re feeling can and will change.”
- “I may not be able to understand exactly how you feel, but I care about you and want to help and support you.”
- “You are important to me. Your life is important to me.”
Convincing a person with bipolar disorder to see a doctor
Aside from offering emotional support, the best way to help your loved one with bipolar disorder is by encouraging and supporting treatment. Often, that can be more of a challenge than it sounds. Since people with bipolar disorder tend to lack insight into their condition, it’s not always easy to get them to a doctor. When your loved one is manic, they feel great and don’t realize there’s a problem. When your loved one is depressed, they may recognize something’s wrong, but often lack the energy to seek help.
If your loved one won’t acknowledge the possibility of bipolar disorder, don’t argue about it. The idea may be frightening to them, so be sensitive. Suggest a routine medical checkup instead, or a doctor’s visit for a specific symptom, such as insomnia, irritability, or fatigue (you can privately call ahead to tell the doctor of your concerns about bipolar disorder).
Things you can say that might help:
- “Bipolar disorder is a real illness, like diabetes. It requires medical treatment.”
- “You’re not to blame for bipolar disorder. You didn’t cause it. It’s not your fault.”
- “You can feel better. There are many treatments that can help.”
- “When bipolar disorder isn’t treated, it usually gets worse.”
Supporting a loved one during bipolar disorder treatment
Once your friend or family member agrees to see a doctor, you can help by being a partner in treatment. Your support can make a big difference in their treatment success, so offer to be involved in any way your loved one wants or needs.
Things you can do to support a loved one’s bipolar disorder treatment:
- Find qualified doctors and therapists
- Set up appointments and go along
- Offer your insights to the doctor
- Monitor your loved one’s moods
- Learn about their medications
- Track treatment progress
- Watch for signs of relapse
- Alert the doctor to problems
Encourage your loved one to take bipolar disorder medication
Medication is the cornerstone of treatment for bipolar disorder, and most people need it to regulate their moods and avoid relapse. Despite the need for medication, many people with bipolar disorder stop taking it. Some quit because they’re feeling better, others because of side effects, and yet others because they enjoy the symptoms of mania. People who don’t think they have a problem are particularly likely to stop taking medication.
You can help your loved one with bipolar disorder stay on track by emphasizing the importance of medication and making sure they take all prescriptions as directed. Also encourage your loved one to speak to their doctor about any bothersome side effects. Side effects can be very unpleasant if the dose of the medication is too low or too high, but a change in medication or dosage may solve the problem. Remind your loved one that abruptly stopping medication is dangerous.
Watch for warning signs of bipolar disorder relapse
Even if your loved one with bipolar disorder is committed to treatment, there may be times when their symptoms get worse. Take action right away if you notice any troubling symptoms or mood changes. Point out the emerging bipolar symptoms to your loved one and alert the doctor. With swift intervention, you may be able to prevent an episode of mania or depression from developing fully.
Mania warning signs and symptoms:
- Sleeping less
- Elevated mood
- Speaking rapidly
- Increase in activity level
- Irritability or aggression
Depression warning signs and symptoms:
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Sleeping more
- Trouble concentrating
- Loss of interest in activities
- Withdrawing from others
- Change in appetite
Coping with mania and depression: Tips for family and friends
If it’s not possible to prevent your loved one relapsing, there are things you can do to cope during a manic or depressive episode.
Don’t take bipolar symptoms personally. When in the midst of a bipolar episode, people often say or do things that are hurtful or embarrassing. When manic, your loved one may be reckless, cruel, critical, and aggressive. When depressed, they may be rejecting, irritable, hostile, and moody. It’s hard not to take such behaviors personally, but try to remember that they’re symptoms of your loved one’s mental illness, not the result of selfishness or immaturity.
Be prepared for destructive behaviors. When manic or depressed, people with bipolar disorder may behave in destructive or irresponsible ways. Planning ahead for how to handle such behavior can help. When your loved one is well, negotiate a treatment contract that gives you advance approval for protecting them when symptoms flare up. Agree on specific steps you’ll take, such as removing credit cards or car keys, going together to the doctor, or taking charge of household finances.
Know what to do in a crisis. It’s important to plan ahead for times of crisis so you can act quickly and effectively when it occurs. Having a crisis plan can help. Make sure to include a list of emergency contact information for doctors, therapists, and other friends or family members who will help. Also include the address and phone number of the hospital where you’ll take your loved one if necessary.
Call 911 (or your country’s emergency services number) in an emergency. If your loved one with bipolar disorder is suicidal or violent, don’t try to handle the situation alone. If you’re worried that your loved one may hurt you, get to safety and then call the police. If your loved one is suicidal, don’t leave them alone. Call for an ambulance and stay with your loved one until it arrives.
Supporting someone who is manic
- Spend time with your loved one. People who are manic often feel isolated from other people. Spending even short periods of time with them helps. If your loved one has a lot of energy, walk together. This allows your loved one to keep on the move but still share your company.
- Answer questions honestly. However, do not argue or debate with someone during a manic episode. Try to avoid intense conversation.
- Don’t take any comments personally. During manic episodes, your loved one may say or do things that are out of character, including focusing on negative aspects of others. Try to avoid arguments.
- Prepare easy-to-eat meals and drinks. It’s often difficult for someone who is manic to sit down to a meal, so try offering them sandwiches, apples, cheese crackers, and juices, for example.
- Avoid subjecting your loved one to a lot of activity and stimulation. It’s better to keep surroundings as quiet as possible.
- Allow your loved one to sleep whenever possible. During periods of high energy, sleeping is difficult but short naps taken throughout the day can help. Sometimes a person who is manic may feel rested after only a few hours of sleep.
Taking care of yourself when a loved one has bipolar disorder
It’s easy to neglect your own needs when you’re supporting someone with a mental illness. But if you don’t take care of yourself, you run the risk of burnout—and that won’t help you or your loved one with bipolar disorder. When you take care of yourself both emotionally and physically, you’ll be able to better cope with the stress of caring for someone with bipolar disorder and have the energy you need to support your loved one’s recovery.
Focus on your own life. Supporting your loved one may involve some life adjustments, but make sure you don’t lose sight of your own goals and priorities. Don’t give up friendships, plans, or activities that bring you joy.
Seek support. Dealing with a loved one’s mental illness can be painful and isolating. Make sure you’re getting the emotional support you need to cope. Talk to someone you trust about what you’re going through. It can also help to get your own therapy or join a support group.
Set boundaries. Be realistic about the amount of care you’re able to provide without feeling overwhelmed and resentful. Set limits on what you’re willing and able to do, and stick to them. Letting bipolar disorder take over your life isn’t healthy for you or your loved one.
Manage stress. Stress takes a toll on the body and mind, so find ways to keep it in check. Make sure you’re eating right and getting enough sleep and exercise. You can also keep stress under control by practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation.
Ask for help. If your friend or family member needs more assistance than you can give, ask for help from others. Turn to other relatives or close friends, or contact a bipolar disorder support organization.
Can I continue Working with Bipolar Disorder?
The ability to continue working with bipolar disorder often depends on the form of the condition from which you suffer – Type I or Type II – and the severity, frequency and duration of the symptoms you experience, including how common and pronounced your manic and depressive episodes are.
The treatments require to manage your condition can also affect your ability to work, and may include therapy and medications. Many of the medications for treating bipolar disorder also cause side effects that can further impact your ability to maintain employment.
Bipolar Disorder and Mental Capacity
With bipolar disorder, you experience periods of depression and mania. Either stage in these cyclical phases can result in symptoms that make it difficult to work and to effectively interact with your boss and coworkers. The job you have and your daily duties may determine how much your symptoms affect your ability to perform; however, regardless of position you hold, your dependability, reliability, accuracy, cooperativeness and other core attributes are important.
Poor judgment and impulse control, frequent mood swings, irritability, inability to concentrate, hyperactivity, and other common symptoms of the manic phases of bipolar disorder all affect your ability to perform your job and interact with others.
Additionally, the depressive phases of bipolar disorder bring other mental challenges, including pronounced low moods that may prevent you from performing well at work, and perhaps even extreme sadness that keeps you from getting our bed and making it to work each day. Inability to make decisions, concentrate or remember things are also common symptoms that can negatively impact your ability to perform your job.
Drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and sleeping disorders are also commonly associated with and/or caused by bipolar disorder. These additional conditions affect your working ability and the likelihood you’ll be able to get and keep a good job.
Mood stabilizing medications are required for treating bipolar disorder, though some patients require treatment that may include anti-anxiety, antidepressant or antipsychotic medications as well. Other therapies may also be necessary in cases where drug therapy is not effective, including electroconvulsive therapy or transcranial magnetic stimulation. Hospitalization during manic or depressive episodes is commonly required, and any period of hospitalization certainly has an impact on your ability to work.
Bipolar Disorder and Physical Capacity
Bipolar disorder symptoms are primarily mental or psychological in nature. As such, the impact that the disorder has on your ability to perform the physical duties of your job, like lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling items, or walking, standing or operating equipment may not be significant. However, because the mental capacity to safely and effectively perform physical duties may be compromised by your bipolar disorder, the implications of the condition on your overall ability to work can be far reaching. Additionally, because bipolar disorder often affects sleep patterns, you may be physically fatigued and experience balance problems or muscle weakness. These and other physical manifestations of symptoms can impact your capability to perform physical job requirements.
Applying for Disability with Bipolar Disorder
When you apply for Social Security Disability (SSD) benefits with bipolar disorder, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will compare your symptoms to the listing in the Blue Book for “ Affective Disorders” and will seek to establish your physical and mental residual functional capacity (RFC) in order to determine if you meet the eligibility requirements for receiving disability benefits. The Blue Book is the manual of potentially disabling conditions used by the SSA, and RFC defines what kind of work, if any, you may be able to perform, even with the limitations your bipolar disorder places on you.
Being approved for SSD benefits with bipolar disorder requires extensive medical documentation, including statements from your treating physicians and records showing the effects of the condition on your everyday life and your ability to work. Because the eligibility criteria for meeting the “Affective Disorders” Blue Book definition are complex, it’s advisable that you seek help from a Social Security advocate and/or attorney when applying for disability benefits.
If you want to find out if you qualify for disability, fill out the free evaluation form on this site to be contacted by a disability attorney in your area.
Holding Down a Job—With Bipolar
I have a 23-year-old bipolar daughter who seems incapable of holding a job. She has had 16 jobs to date and has been fired from all of them. Is there anything I can do to help?
There may be many reasons why your daughter could be having trouble holding a job, and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder might give us a clue as to how to help her. Just like unipolar depression, bipolar disorder brings emotional and practical problems to overcome. I presume that she is currently under some professional care for medication, which stabilizes the emotional swings to a functional degree. Let’s help her weave together a philosophy about bipolar depression that allows her to weather the emotional storms with minimal stress to herself.
Many people with bipolar disorder hold down jobs—although they may suffer emotionally. Some also work very hard to monitor their thoughts and moods. People with bipolar use a type of thinking known as overgeneralization. Overgeneralizations are ideas that propound a form of thinking that is absolute and unrelenting—ideas that are fixed in either an overly negative, or overly grandiose direction. Thus, the person with bipolar may experience two distinct moods—very up or very down. This kind of thinking: “Poor me, I’m always left behind,” or, “No one cares for me, therefore I’m worthless” keeps your daughter vulnerable, wounded, and hurt. It is hard to buck up against the onslaught of these negative ideas.
Appropriate medication and psychotherapy are a key part of treatment. And while the physiology of BPD requires stabilization, so do some of the over-generalizing thoughts that accompany episodes of upset. These include:
- “This is too hard—I have no control.”
- “Poor me—I can’t stand this unfairness.”
- “It’s easier for me to escape then to stay and work this out.”
- “I need relief now—and if I don’t see a way out there is none.”
- “I need constant reassurance of caring from others.”
- “Not feeling understood is intolerable.”
Other triggers for episodes are seasonal changes, sleep disruption, and interpersonal conflict. As we seek to control the physiology—we also seek to control the psychology, the beliefs about her own self, others, the world, and the future.
A good approach would focus on managing your daughter’s ideational triggers. By getting her to recognize the external and internal triggers for her upset, we can then focus on some goals:
- Accepting her condition of having an illness—and not to blame herself for having bipolar disorder. Having this emotional condition is largely chemical and physiological, with a cognitive component. She is not responsible for having this illness, but she is responsible for taking care of herself and treating it.
- Learn what helps her feel better—and to look forward to it, whether it be music, a movie, getting together with a trusted friend.
- Practice the coping statements that would counteract the overgeneralized ideation mentioned earlier. For example, she could practice reminding herself that although this is hard, she has weathered it before, and can learn to tolerate it better.
As her emotions stabilize with a combination of medication and good cognitive restructuring, her chances of enjoying her life more and more (and holding down a good job) improve dramatically.
Employment services for people with bipolar disorder
Once a person with bipolar disorder has put a strategy in place to manage bipolar symptoms and be work-ready, the next step is to develop confidence for job interviews. Getting an interview is definitely a reason to be excited but it may also bring on other emotions.
It may bring feelings of stress which is usually a trigger for episodes, this stress may come before or during the interview. Interview preparation for people with bipolar disorder is all about managing stress levels. The good news is that this interview preparation will also make them a strong contender for the job.
Being prepared is the key to performing in an interview for people with bipolar disorder. Conducting research makes a person a strong candidate for a job. People with bipolar disorder will also find researching the job and company increases their confidence, and as a result reduces stress.
Dress for success
The better dressed you are for the interview, the more confident you’ll likely feel. Always aim to be better dressed than those interviewing you. Wear a clean and professional outfit. This confidence should lessen the stress symptoms for people with bipolar disorder.
Caffeine triggers the release of adrenaline which is the source of the flight or fight response. Perfect for someone to deal with the stressful situation of running away from a tiger, but not sitting across from a panel of three interviewers. Adrenaline also re-routes metabolic energy from the digestive tract which can leave a person with a dry mouth, making it quite hard to talk during an interview.
Therefore, leave the caffeine alone, and take up the offer for water when offered before or during the interview.
Job accommodations: Perspectives from people with bipolar disorder
Bipolar Affective Disorder (BD), also known as ‘manic depression,’ is a chronic, often recurrent condition that affects more than half a million Canadians. It is characterized by changes in mood and behaviour, which range from elevated, euphoric and irritable (mania), to sad, withdrawn and hopeless (depression). While symptoms such as depression and euphoria can be controlled to some degree by medications, they can still result in significant challenges for individuals living with the disorder. Several studies have shown an association between BD and impairment in social roles such as work. Notably, people with BD rate work as the role most important to their quality of life, and the ability to maintain financial independence and contribute to the social fabric of our world is tied to how people work. Consequently, satisfactory employment is associated with improved health outcomes. However, the ability of people with BD to engage in work varies widely. Symptom recovery from an episode of BD occurs before functional and occupational recovery, which suggests factors beyond clinical symptoms can influence a person’s capacity for employment. In her research, Sandra Hale is exploring both formal and informal job accommodations with a view to improving employment outcomes for people with BD. Formal accommodations are defined as changes made to job structure and/or demands, documented by employers, disability management or vocational rehabilitation services. Informal accommodations are defined by the person with BD to address workplace issues or job demands. The results of Ms. Hale’s project will be shared with health care providers and mental health organizations and may help inform policy promoting access to information about job accommodation for people with BD.
Work can be a stressful place for everyone – dealing with high workload, tight deadlines, and difficult personalities. Now imagine all of that, with the addition of having a mental illness which is made worse by stress. Welcome to my world.
Suddenly, that person who is out to get your job has some ammunition, your tight two-hour deadline falls on a day when you struggled just to get yourself out of bed, and that all-important meeting happens to clash with an urgent doctor’s appointment.
Many people with bipolar struggle to hold down a job, and I’m not surprised. The reality of having a mental illness and trying to lead a ‘normal’ life is bleak. There’s bullying, resentment, incredible amounts of stress and pressure, secrecy, and shame. Many people choose to keep their mental illness a secret from colleagues and employers – I’ve tried being open, and I’ve tried keeping it a secret – neither has been easy. When you do tell them, you risk bullying, special treatment, and a glass ceiling. When you don’t, you have to suffer alone without any help. Neither are great options. But I’ve chosen to come out of the closet for good, and here’s why.
The big secret
At my last job, I kept my bipolar disorder a secret, except for a select few who I trusted with it after a lengthy period at the company. I was terrified. Terrified that it would set me back in my career – that people wouldn’t trust me, or would babysit me, holding my hand for the simplest tasks. My biggest fear of all was that they would be repulsed by me – that friends would turn around and tell me I’m crazy and that I should “jump off a bridge and die”. This doesn’t mean to say that I didn’t trust them, or that I didn’t respect them, but unfortunately mental illness is a taboo and many intelligent people are ignorant to what it really means.
Keeping it a secret was tough, as hiding your moods is a pretty difficult task. Obviously people noticed that there was something not quite right. I’d get comments in reviews about being too emotional and sensitive, too passionate and “up and down”. I could never turn around and explain that there was nothing I could do about that, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to make excuses for myself or give up on trying to be normal. Nevertheless, this isn’t an easy option to take – battling through low periods while trying to maintain face at your job is pretty tough – no one should have to suffer alone without help.
Opening my eyes
I have tried being open too. When I left university and entered the working world, I was optimistic about the working environment and peoples understanding of mental illness. I had been in a bubble at university and had forgotten that the real world was a much harder place. So I told everyone in my team that I was bipolar and that it shouldn’t affect work but that they should know just in case.
Mistake. Some people on the team were wholly supportive, by which I mean they treated me entirely normally. Others tried to be supportive but ended up making me feel awkward by always starting a conversation with “how are you doing?” accompanied with sympathetic puppy eyes. And then there were those who were less than understanding, who would roll their eyes every time I made the slightest error, or openly joke about my illness in front of others to show me up.
Despite the negative experience, I’ve chosen to come out of the metaphorical closet once and for all. Why? Because I’m choosing not to live in shame any longer. Society tells us that having a mental illness is something to be embarrassed about, something to hide in the attic like Mr Rochester’s crazy wife. Yes, there are plenty of negatives to being bipolar, but there are also positives. It’s made me stronger, it’s a sign that you’re a fighter – every day is about survival, and I’ve survived up until now. It also gives you more empathy and makes you more conscientious – positive skills which can give you a boost in your career.
I’ve chosen to be proud of who I am and speak openly about it, because if we only let there be a negative rhetoric about mental illness and we all hide in the closet, nothing will ever change. I hope that by now I’ve proved that I’m capable enough to hold down a job and produce good work, without being judged for the bipolar. I guess we’ll have to see.
Shadi-Sade Sarreshtehdarzadeh is a communications strategist, and is currently working at the BBC as an audience planner
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