Depression and bipolar disorder can present challenges, but there are things you can do to manage your symptoms and stay well at work. Many people with depression and bipolar disorder cope with job-related issues.
One of the first steps in staying healthy at work is figuring out what symptoms affect you and which ones give you the most trouble. Good mental health at work comes with symptom management. Taking steps to reduce your symptoms and keep yourself well can have a positive effect on your work.
Take breaks, even when you don’t think you need them
Know what increases your stress level. Recognize when you are feeling more stress and need to step back from your work. You might want to take a short time out to meditate, do a relaxation exercise, listen to music, or read a helpful brochure.
Stick with your treatment while working
It’s important to take your medication(s) as prescribed, even at work. Set a timer, alarm, or reminder on your computer or phone if you often forget to take medication.
Address side effects
Talk to your doctor about changing your dosing time if your medication makes you feel drowsy or restless at work. Take medication with food if nausea is a problem. Keep water nearby if you get a dry mouth.
Know that you can be most productive with a stable mood
Don’t allow mania or hypomania go untreated. As productive as you may feel at the time, you may be more likely to make mistakes.
Find a sense of purpose or passion in your personal life. Know that there is more to your life than work. A few ideas to explore include to
- participate in your local DBSA group;
- volunteer with a local charity;
- spend time with family and friends;
- establish personal goals, such as learning a new skill or writing your life story; and
- plan events you can look forward to.
Tell yourself you can feel better when you are having a difficult day
Even if you don’t feel better right away, know that you have the tools to work toward wellness.
Keep life simple
Get enough rest, eat nutritious meals and do some type of physical exercise daily.
Get help before there is a crisis
Make an appointment with your health care provider right away if you feel an episode coming on so you can take steps to stabilize your mood.
Sometimes an episode of depression or mania happens even when you are doing everything right—following your treatment, sleeping and eating enough, and getting support. If this happens, get the help you need.
Allow yourself to take things slower
Take time to recover if you have had an episode of mania or depression.
Remember that you are not your symptoms, and you are not your diagnosis
Mood disorders define mental health conditions, not who you are as a person.
Get the most from your job.
- Look for opportunities to learn at work. Knowledge and skills can always help you, even if you aren’t able to use what you learn right away.
- Use creative problem-solving skills to manage your time and workload. Make to-do lists that are easy for you to use. Write things down if you have trouble remembering them.
- See each challenge as a learning experience. Even if the experience is difficult, ask yourself what you can learn from it.
- Gain strength from your past successes. Apply things that worked for you in past to new challenges you face. When you are praised at work, remember it or make a note of it.
- Do your best, regardless of how you feel.
- Believe that you are worthwhile and that you are doing good work. Give yourself credit for everything you do, including small things.
- Direct your energy toward one project at a time and break large projects down into small, manageable steps.
- Address problems as they happen, rather than building resentment. Discuss your needs with your supervisor using “I” statements, such as “I feel pressured when I get an important project at the last minute.”
- Accept where you are right now and try not to take on more work than you can handle.
- Ask for help. Take opportunities to learn from others and empower yourself.
- Accept others where they’re at. If you have trouble with a coworker, focus on the problem, not the person.
- Be ready to change. Keep an open mind and accept constructive criticism.
Should I tell anyone about my mental health condition?
It is your choice whether or not to talk about your diagnosis at work and who to tell. Not everyone is educated about depression and bipolar disorder. You may choose not to tell anyone or you may choose to tell others in order to educate them.
You may need to discuss your condition with your supervisor if you need special accommodations. These may include shorter days, special hours, more frequent breaks, time off, or changes in job responsibilities or work environment.
Discuss your needs with your supervisor. Bring some educational materials about your diagnosis. You might want to bring a letter from your health care provider. Let your supervisor know what you need and why you need it. Point out positive things, such as how the accommodation will help you be more productive.
Are there laws that protect me at work?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people from discrimination due to disability. It is a complicated set of laws that affects people in different ways. Research ADA laws carefully to find out if they apply to your situation before taking action. More ADA information is available by calling the U.S. Department of Justice ADA Information Line at 1-800-514-0301 or visiting http://www.ada.gov/.
Taking Time Off
While it’s important to use your support network to help cope with job-related problems, it’s just as important to take care of your health. Take advantage of paid sick leave or vacation time if your symptoms become severe. If you don’t have enough leave time, you have some other options.
Short or long-term disability insurance is offered by some employers. These policies allow employees to take time off with a percentage of their pay if they are ill or injured. Look through your employee manual or check with your Human Resources department to find out what your workplace offers. You may also be able to buy a policy on your own.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a law that allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a year if the employee or a family member becomes seriously ill. FMLA is a complex law; research it to see if you can benefit from it. For more information, call 1-866-487-9243 (TTY 1-877-889-5627) or visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/.
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits are government benefits paid to people who can’t work because of physical or mental disability. You can apply for SSDI at your local Social Security Administration office, by phone, or online. Call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or visit http://www.ssa.gov/ to learn more about SSDI.
If you are currently employed, your place of employment may offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) as a benefit. You can learn more about Employee Assistance Programs at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.
Activities During Recovery
When you are recovering from an episode of mania or depression, you may need to spend some time with no demands on your time or energy. When you start to feel better, you may want to plan activities where you are using your skills. Volunteering may be an option. Contact charity organizations in your area to find out what type of assistance they need. Helping your local DBSA group or forming a new group can also be rewarding.
As you recover, take time to care of yourself. When you go back to work, continue to check with yourself to evaluate your symptoms and your needs.
Going Back to Work
If you have quit a job or been fired, or if you are unable to find a job, you are not alone. Getting back to work may take some time. It may be difficult to find a job right away if you haven’t been working for a while. Having ideas about your goals and skills can help. Ask a talk therapist or employment counselor for help identifying your skills and planning your search. Look for community-based services with sliding fee scales if necessary.
Make a list of your skills and the qualities that make you a good employee. Are you creative? Hard working? Friendly? Considerate? What life experiences have you had, and what have you learned from them? All these things are assets you can bring to a job.
Then list the things you want from a job. Do you like to work alone or with a large group? Do you prefer a quiet environment or one with a lot of activity? Do you prefer simple work or solving complicated problems? Do you like to be given directions or do you prefer to work on your own? What time of day do you prefer to work? How far are you able to commute?
For help writing your resume and cover letter, look for helpful articles in the business section of your newspaper and on job search websites. You can also check your local library or bookstore for books on finding a job. Ask people you know, including those in your DBSA group, if they know of any available jobs. Don’t give up hope, even if it takes some time to find a job. Don’t let past setbacks or bad job experiences keep you from pursuing your goals.
How can DBSA support groups help?
No one with depression or bipolar disorder needs to feel alone or ashamed. DBSA support groups provide a safe, caring place to talk about your work and other challenges. Contact DBSA to locate the DBSA chapter or support group nearest you. If there is no group in your area, DBSA can help you start one.
When combined with treatment, DBSA support groups
- can help you stick with your treatment plan and avoid hospitalization;
- provide a place for mutual acceptance, understanding, and self-discovery;
- help you understand that depression or bipolar disorder does not define who you are; and
- give you the opportunity to benefit from the experiences of those who have been there.
Note to Supervisors: Help your employees recognize depression or bipolar disorder and find treatment by
- educating yourself about depression and bipolar disorder and knowing the signs that an employee may need help;
- educating your staff about symptoms and treatments;
- being available to employees as a confidential resource;
- refusing to tolerate stigma or name-calling; and
- supporting employees who need special accommodations.
The following organizations and others listed throughout this page may provide additional help with job-related issues. DBSA assumes no responsibility for the content or accuracy of the material they provide.
Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Provides information but cannot give individual legal advice.)
ADA National Network: Information, Guidance and Training on the Americans with Disabilities Act
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
1-800-669-4000 or 1-800-669-6820 (TTY)
Job Accommodation Network