Bipolar disorder is linked to work challenges because the condition can cause limitations in attention, learning, and memory. Co-occurring mental health conditions may also have a negative effect on work.

While the stresses involved in bipolar disorder pose work-related difficulties, various techniques can help manage them. Examples include learning time-management skills and changing the workstation to optimize comfort.

This article discusses bipolar disorder and work, including laws pertaining to discrimination, disclosure, and disability. It also looks at ways to manage work-related stress, answers some frequently asked questions, and lists resources for support.

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Bipolar disorder can have a significant negative effect on work. A 2022 study notes that bipolar disorder is linked to:

  • higher unemployment
  • increased work absenteeism due to illness
  • decreased work productivity

The authors found that people with severe functional limitations across several areas had a higher risk of unemployment.

Evidence suggests an association between certain cognitive limitations and work difficulties. These include:

  • attention
  • immediate verbal memory, or being able to instantly recall spoken instructions
  • mental processing speed, or the speed at which a person can perform a mental task
  • verbal learning, which refers to learning from spoken instructions

The degree to which bipolar disorder affects work depends on the number and severity of symptoms. It can also depend on any co-occurring mental health conditions.

While bipolar disorder may pose employment challenges, effective treatment can help someone do well in their job. This usually involves a combination of medication and talk therapy.

Learn more about bipolar disorder.

The following are laws that pertain to bipolar disorder in the workplace:

American Disabilities Act

The American Disabilities Act (ADA) offers several protections for people with mental health conditions. It prevents private employers from discriminating against them in regard to hiring, firing, promotions, and pay.

The ADA also mandates that employers make reasonable accommodations in the workplace to help a person perform their job duties. This may involve flexible work settings or schedules.

The ADA also outlines rights to privacy. Someone may choose not to disclose to their employer that they have a mental condition unless they are asking for work accommodations.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants people up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to manage serious health conditions. This includes conditions affecting mental health. An employer may require a healthcare professional to submit certification of a person’s need for FMLA leave.

Social Security disability

Under Section 12.04, the Social Security Administration considers some individuals with bipolar disorder eligible for disability benefits. To qualify, a person must provide documentation that they have certain ongoing symptoms. They must also demonstrate marked or extreme limitations in certain areas of functioning.

Individuals with bipolar disorder are more prone to stress. They also have greater difficulty recovering from and adjusting to it. Additionally, stress can cause symptoms to appear and trigger relapses.

The American Psychological Association offers the following tips for managing work-related stress:

Set boundaries

Instead of being available 24-7, set healthy work-life boundaries. This may include not checking emails from work in the evenings. During non-working hours, try to “switch off.” This may translate to turning off smartphones and focusing on non-work-related thoughts and activities.

Make workplace changes

This may entail:

  • asking for help or resources from colleagues
  • learning time-management skills
  • changing the workstation to make it more comfortable and pleasant
  • getting clarifications on expectations when necessary

Develop healthy responses to stress

When stress increases, try:

  • engaging in exercise, which is a natural stress reducer
  • adopting practices that promote good quality sleep, such as:
    • avoiding caffeine in the evening
    • abstaining from the use of electronics before bedtime
  • taking time to do enjoyable activities

Seek support

Accept stress-management support from family and friends. It also helps to talk with a psychologist who can teach healthy coping skills.

Learn more about managing stress.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about bipolar disorder:

How common is bipolar disorder?

An estimated 2.8% of adults in the United States had bipolar disorder in the past year. About 4.4% may experience the condition at some time in their lives.

How can employers foster a work environment that is less stressful?

Employers can help by encouraging a work culture that promotes acceptance and reduces the stigma of mental health conditions. They can also offer training for managers and employees on mental health awareness. Allowing flexibility in working hours and settings is also beneficial. This can include working remotely from home.

Why are people with bipolar disorder more vulnerable to stress?

This stems from multiple factors. Mood episodes may result in time off from work, hospitalizations, and increasing financial pressures. A person’s own thoughts and behavior may also create stressful life events. The possibility of encountering stigma may play a role as well.

Support resources for bipolar disorder include:

There is a link between bipolar disorder and work challenges. The symptoms of the condition can limit attention, learning, and memory. All of these may affect work.

The ADA protects people with bipolar disorder from discrimination in the workplace. It also safeguards their privacy. The ADA mandates that employers make reasonable accommodations to help people with bipolar disorder perform their duties.

The FMLA is another law that protects people with bipolar disorder. It permits an individual to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to help manage their condition.

Someone with severe bipolar disorder may be eligible to receive disability benefits.

The stresses a person with bipolar disorder experiences can affect their work. However, various management techniques can help. These may include setting healthy work-life boundaries, such as avoiding checking emails from work in the evening.