How to find and keep a job with bipolar disorder
Experts say that working in a supportive environment can be beneficial for people with bipolar disorder.
Although symptoms like mood swings, depressive episodes and difficulty concentrating can affect work performance, having the right support and strategies in place can help you feel empowered and confident in your role.
Whether you’re looking for a job where your strengths can shine or need strategies to cope in your current role, check out the tips below for finding and keeping a job with bipolar disorder:
1. Follow your treatment plan
It’s important to work closely with your health professionals and follow your treatment plan, even when you feel on top. Looking after your physical and mental health can have a positive effect on your work performance and help you better manage symptoms.
2. Know what to look for in a job
Although everyone has different needs when it comes to work, the best jobs for people with bipolar disorder tend to be low stress jobs with a regular structure. Shift work and irregular hours can disrupt sleep patterns and make it harder to manage symptoms.
For many people with bipolar disorder, a regular routine and clearly defined responsibilities can provide stability and help with mood balance. Others find that a flexible schedule allows them to play to their strengths and take time off when they need a break.
Although every workplace has some level of stress, it’s advised that you avoid high stress workplaces as stress can trigger manic and depressive moods. Practising stress management techniques at home and at work can also help.
3. Register for employment support
If your bipolar symptoms are affecting your ability to find work or hold down a job, you could be eligible for government funded support.
Disability Employment Services provides support for people living with an injury, illness or disability to find and keep a job. When you register, an employment consultant will work closely with you to prepare you for work, find job opportunities that are right for you and access ongoing workplace support.
If you are already working but worried about losing your job because of bipolar symptoms, you could be eligible for Work Assist. Work Assist providers can help you access workplace modifications and find solutions to help you stay in your job.
You can register for Disability Employment Services and Work Assist through Centrelink or by contacting a provider directly.
4. Be prepared to explain gaps in your work history
If you have had trouble holding down a job in the past, you may have gaps in your employment history or a range of jobs that didn’t last long. When you submit your resume to a prospective employer, they may want to know why.
It’s important to be honest on your resume and in job interviews. You may decide to tell the employer you took time off for health reasons, but you don’t have to go into personal details unless you want to.
Focus on what you did during your employment gaps, such as study, volunteer work or skills building. Show your enthusiasm to get back to work and explain the skills and attributes you’ll bring to the role.
5. Understand your rights
In Australia, you’re not obligated to tell an employer about a mental health condition or disorder unless it affects your ability to perform the essential tasks of the job.
In some cases, disclosing to your boss may help improve communication and help you get the support you need at work. Your employer may be willing to make accommodations to help you feel safe and confident in your role.
Deciding whether or not to disclose is a personal decision. It’s recommended you seek professional advice to help you weigh up the options and potential outcomes.
If you feel that you have been unfairly treated because of your mental health condition, you can make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commision.
6. Ask for workplace accommodations
Workplace accommodations are changes in your work environment, schedule or tasks that help you better manage symptoms and perform your job well.
Australian employers are required to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to help employees perform their job safely and properly. Your employer may even be eligible for funding for some accommodations.
Accommodations are highly personal. They could include things like time off for health appointments, working from home or reducing your schedule to part time hours. Your employer may be willing to give you a private workspace or access to a quiet room where you can take breaks throughout the day.
Dividing large tasks into smaller steps and allowing uninterrupted work time may help with concentration and focus. To-do lists, scheduling apps and reminders can help with organisation and written instructions and written agreements may improve communication with supervisors.
7. Manage workplace stress
Stress can be a trigger for manic and depressive episodes. It can also exacerbate symptoms like poor sleep, irritability and risk-taking behaviour. Knowing what triggers your stress and how to manage it effectively can help you feel more stable at work.
Set boundaries around your work to avoid burning out. For example, don’t take work home at the end of the day and mute notifications outside of work hours. Be realistic about how much time tasks will take and avoid overcommitting.
Include stress management and relaxation activities in your daily routine, whether that’s yoga, meditation or walking. Learn about simple techniques such as mindful breathing that you can use at work when you start to feel overwhelmed.
There’s a lot to think about when you’re living with bipolar disorder and navigating the world of work. Looking after your mental health and wellbeing is a crucial part of finding success in the workplace and it’s important to ask for help if you need it. Having the right supports in place can help you overcome the challenges and work to your strengths.