Sadly, the majority of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder are unemployed, under-employed, or very unhappy at work. Stability in the workforce is very difficult. Almost nine out of every 10 people with bipolar disorder said the illness had affected their job performance. More than half surveyed said they thought they had to change jobs or careers more often than others. And many felt they were either given less responsibility or passed up for promotions.
However, there have been many very successful people who have battled their bipolar disorder at work, and came out ahead. How did they manage to find a successful long-term career in the midst of their mood swings?
The answer is usually two-fold: 1). they found careers that best suited them while taking into account their bipolar personalities, and/or 2). they learned how to best manage their disorder at work so as to have minimal impact on their careers. A key is to learn what triggers you, and how to avoid these triggers in the workplace.
Nearly half of employees report having missed time at work due to work-related stress, and an even greater number, 61%, say that workplace stress has caused them actual physical illness, with insomnia, depression, and family issues cited as results.
These statistics are staggering. We know that roughly 2.6% of the US adult population is considered bipolar. That would mean the overwhelming majority of the people in this survey WERE NOT bipolar. So if they as non-bipolar people were overly stressed at work and that was leading to severe personal problems, imagine how exponentially difficult it is for a person diagnosed with bipolar to manage those stress triggers.
So how do we as bipolar survivors avoid the career “merry-go-round”, where every few years we need to look for another job?
Here are a few tips:
Ask others. When you feel like it is time to get out, ask others whom you trust and know of your bipolar disorder their opinion of the situation. As bipolar people, we may have the tendency to over exaggerate our situations. Others might bring clarity to your situation.
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? Would you rather work independently or in a group? Do you need to work shorter hours or take time off? Or do you need a different job altogether? Take the time to really reflect upon what it is you do not like about your job. Is it the job per se, or is it your bipolar causing you to react to things about the job that has you wanting to leave.
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.
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.
Get support. Are you actively engaged in taking medication and seeking therapy? Could these help stabilize you till you can make a more rational decision about work?
Identify your triggers. Identify those things that trigger your bipolar reactions and take them into consideration when leaving - and when looking - for a new job. Is there a way to remove yourself from these situations at your current job while not sacrificing your career?
While there probably is no non-stressful job, the ability to understand yourself and what drives you is a key to happiness and career stability. For the bipolar person, it is essential. There is no “faking” being bipolar.
Bipolar Career Advisors (BPCA) is a full-time telephone and/or virtual career coaching and counseling services firm. We focus solely on the career coaching needs of the bipolar community. We offer one-on-one career coaching programs, group programs, self-paced packages, resume and LinkedIn profile writing, and guidance. We help our clients define their own brand and guide them in networking and negotiating skills. We work with our clients in preparing a long-term career plan that takes into account their specific bipolar needs.