There is no single career for people with bipolar disorder. A person’s choice of role depends on several factors, including their abilities, interests, and strengths.
However, certain qualities in a job may be preferable for people with bipolar disorder. For example, the International Bipolar Foundation recommends looking for work in a calm and quiet environment, where work is likely to be less stressful.
In this article, we take a closer look at the types of jobs that may be suitable for people with bipolar disorder and help them balance their work with their health. We also offer examples of some of the best and worst jobs and give advice on how to deal with bipolar disorder in the workplace.
Bipolar disorder is a condition in which individuals have pronounced changes in activity, mood, and energy that affect their ability to perform daily tasks.
No career will suit everyone with bipolar disorder. However, people may look for certain characteristics of a job that can help them manage the condition. These include:
Low level of stress
Bipolar disorder causes pronounced changes in mood and energy levels. Stress can trigger these changes. For this reason, doctors may advise people to avoid or minimize stress as much as possible.
A person’s career choice can play an important role in this regard. Low-pressure jobs that don’t have fast-paced demands and tight deadlines can help people minimize the stress they experience every day.
A relaxed environment
Likewise, a calm or quiet workplace can help someone feel more relaxed. Depending on the individual, this may mean seeking a company with a more laid-back culture, a role that involves working in a quiet environment, or both.
Day work with a flexible schedule
Sleep deprivation is another factor that can increase the risk of bipolar episodes. Therefore, it’s best to look for positions with daytime schedules or shifts and avoid those whose schedule interferes with sleep.
Also, because people with bipolar disorder can have “good days” and “bad days,” some people might want to prioritize roles with flexible hours or opt for part-time work.
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Some people with bipolar disorder may find that they don’t really thrive in their careers unless they have a creative outlet. This outlet can come from the job itself or from a job that allows them to pursue creative endeavors outside of work.
Consistent with personal strengths and interests
Even when a job has the above qualities, a person may not be happy in the role unless it matches their strengths and interests. A job that someone feels lacks meaning or doesn’t make the most of their skills can be stressful in its own way.
Each person is unique and has different wants and needs when it comes to their career. However, people who aren’t sure what might be right for them can start by considering jobs that likely meet the criteria above.
Some jobs that may involve calm and quiet environments include:
- librarian or library assistant
- museum or gallery curator
- gardener or landscaper
- yoga or meditation teacher
- massage therapist or spa
Jobs that involve creativity include:
- artist or illustrator
- voice actor
- session musician
- freelance writer
- nail technician
- creation of websites
Jobs that typically have daytime or part-time schedules include:
- an accountant
- delivery man
Here are some examples of jobs that may not be suitable for people with bipolar disorder:
- Food industry employee: These jobs can be stressful, as they are often fast-paced and involve a high level of interaction with the public. People in this type of work often have to deal with complaints and work evenings. Some roles are also unstable – for example, servers may have to rely on tips for their income.
- Emergency Services Employee: Firefighters, police officers and paramedics have a huge responsibility to protect people’s lives, which can lead to stress. These roles also often involve shift work and 24-hour availability.
- Teacher: A
study 2019notes that teachers report more stress than people in most other professions. This stress can lead to burnout or emotional exhaustion. For people with bipolar disorder who want to teach, it may be best to teach virtual classes online or try one-on-one tutoring.
- Actors: The unreliability of this job can make it stressful. Additionally, theater actors may work irregular hours, with performances lasting well into the evening.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provides guidance for managing bipolar disorder at work. They understand:
- Learn to recognize stress: A person should try to be aware of the emotional and physical signs of stress during the day. These may include feeling tense, clenched teeth, or shallow breathing.
- Take breaks: It is a good idea to take a short break whenever stress arises and to be proactive in their planning whenever a difficult task arises. For example, a person might plan to take a break after a big meeting.
- Take on one project at a time: Trying to juggle multiple demands can be stressful. Instead, trying to check off one to-do list item at a time is more manageable.
- Speak with the manager: If it is safe to do so, a person can disclose their diagnosis to their employer. This can help employers make adjustments so the person has less stress or more flexibility on days when they feel less well.
- Continuous processing: It is important to continue any treatment or medication prescribed by a doctor to reduce bipolar episodes, including at work. If a person is concerned that their medication is causing side effects, they may wish to discuss this with their employer to let them know.
- Looking for help: If a person notices the first signs of a seizure, they should not hesitate to ask for help. They should try to speak with a mental health professional as soon as possible. People may find it helpful to have a plan in place if this happens. They can involve their employer, co-workers, or family in creating the plan if it helps.
A person’s self-care outside of work can also help them manage work tasks. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends:
- exercise regularly
- have a balanced diet
- avoiding alcohol and substance use
- get enough sleep and maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- taking medication as directed by the doctor
Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem. In some cases, it can affect a person’s ability to function in daily life to the point of becoming a disability.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects anyone with a condition that “significantly limits one or more major life activities”. This means that employees with bipolar disorder may have certain rights in the workplace.
ADA protections include:
- Protection against discrimination: An employer cannot deny someone a job application, promotion, or training opportunity because they have bipolar disorder.
- Right to privacy: People with bipolar disorder do not have to disclose their diagnosis to a potential or current employer if they do not wish to.
- Right to reasonable accommodation: This means that an employer must adapt a person’s work environment to help them manage their condition, unless it causes them undue hardship.
Here are some examples of accommodations that can help people with bipolar disorder:
- flexible hours
- day shifts
- a quiet office or cubicle to work in
- more frequent short breaks
- work from home
Even if someone thinks they might need accommodations when applying for a job, they are not required to disclose this to the employer.
There is no one type of job that will suit everyone with bipolar disorder. Some people may find that they can excel in many roles. However, because sleep deprivation and stress can be triggers for symptoms, many people find quiet, low-stress roles with daylight hours to be more appropriate.
There are many jobs that someone with bipolar disorder might find fulfilling, ranging from creative to technical roles. A person’s individual needs, interests and skills should all play a part in the decision.
When applying for a job, it’s important to research the company, its practices, and what the role entails. It’s also a good idea for the person to consider their strengths and the things they find difficult. A career counselor may be able to help you find and apply for the right job.