You’re not obligated to tell your boss or human resources department about your bipolar disorder diagnosis. But you may be eligible for workplace accommodations and medical leave.
If you have bipolar disorder, you may cycle between periods of high moods, known as mania or hypomania, and periods of low moods, known as depression.
Bipolar disorder may also affect your cognitive function, such as your:
These symptoms can make working challenging, especially if they affect your day-to-day functioning. A 2022 review found that people with moderate to severe symptoms of bipolar disorder were less likely than those with mild symptoms to be employed.
Working with bipolar disorder can pose significant challenges, but the right job can also provide benefits. Those benefits extend beyond employment income. Working a supportive and rewarding job may also help improve your self-esteem, give you a sense of purpose, and offer opportunities for personal growth and social connection.
The key is to find a job with working conditions that fit your needs. Following your agreed-upon treatment plan and practicing healthy habits is essential for thriving at work with bipolar disorder.
There’s no one-size-fits-all job for anyone, including people with bipolar disorder. Instead, it’s important to look for work that suits you as an individual.
“When you think about bipolar disorder, it’s not just one picture you’re looking at,” Dr. Shawna Newman, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, tells Healthline.
“As many individuals as there are that have bipolar disorder, there’s their version of bipolar. So, it’s not an experience or an illness that you can put into one little box.”
Here are some things to consider when deciding what job might be right for you.
What are the work conditions?
Will the job support your lifestyle and help you meet your goals while allowing you to grow as an individual? Or will it increase your stress with few rewards?
Research suggests that jobs that are very demanding while providing little control or few rewards may negatively affect your mental health.
On the other hand, favorable work conditions may help support your mental well-being. These conditions include fair pay, job security, job control, and supportive work relationships.
Many people with bipolar disorder may prefer a quiet, relaxed work environment with predictable demands.
A part-time or flexible schedule may help you balance work with your mental health needs. Getting enough sleep, attending healthcare appointments, and practicing other healthful habits is essential for managing bipolar disorder.
What will your supervisor and co-workers be like?
Having a supportive supervisor and co-workers may help you feel more comfortable and validated at work. This is especially important when you’re coping with stressful situations.
Finding a job where your supervisor and co-workers share your values and embrace a healthful work-life balance may help you thrive.
It’s also important to consider whether you prefer to work alone or with others. Some jobs require more collaboration with co-workers, while others allow people to work independently.
“I think it’s key for all people, but especially those with bipolar disorder, to find work environments that are supportive and have a collegial atmosphere, so if there’s a moment or a day that isn’t going well, you have support,” says Newman. “Working independently can also be a terrific thing for people who need flexibility.”
Is the job rewarding?
Finding work that provides fair pay and social or psychological benefits may help you feel more professionally satisfied.
For some people, that means finding a job where they can be creative. For others, it means finding work where they help others or tackle problems that matter to them.
Consider taking some time to reflect on what gives you a sense of purpose or fulfillment.
Think about your:
- personal values and interests
- abilities, strengths, and skills
- personality traits
Then take some time to research different jobs and career paths to learn which ones may complement your interests, qualifications, and needs.
If you can’t find a job that suits you, you might consider starting your own business or working as an independent contractor. You can set your own work hours and responsibilities.
However, running your own business has its own challenges. Depending on your preferences and needs, you might appreciate the structure of working for someone else.
To learn about different jobs and career paths, consider visiting O*NET Online.
You can use this resource to learn what different types of jobs entail, including their:
- typical work conditions, schedules, duties, and salaries
- required skills, education, training, or certifications
- opportunities to advance
- employment outcomes
Many websites are also available to search for local or remote job postings.
If you’re having trouble finding a job on your own, consider reaching out to a career counselor at your school, alma mater, or a local community organization.
Legally, you don’t have to tell your employer about any health information unless you could put others at risk.
Before you tell your employer or co-workers that you have bipolar disorder, consider the potential benefits and risks.
Telling your boss or human resource department that you have bipolar disorder may increase your access to workplace accommodations and medical leave. For example, they might grant you a more flexible work schedule or a change in job roles to accommodate your needs.
But not all employers understand the benefits of workplace accommodations and medical leave for supporting work performance. They may be reluctant to provide such accommodations.
“I have had patients who have very successfully shared with HR that they have bipolar disorder, and they’re going to need some sort of accommodation,” says Newman.
This depends in part on the people you work with. “If your experience of bipolar disorder is one that needs flexibility, that can make such a difference,” Newman explains. “But if you’re working with a supervisor who is unsympathetic to accommodations in general, that can be very hard.”
Employers, supervisors, or co-workers may also unfairly assume that someone who requires accommodations is less competent or reliable. This is an example of health-related stigma, which can lead to discrimination and other challenges at work.
In the United States and many other countries, it’s illegal to discriminate against workers for having a mental health condition — but it still happens.
Pros and cons of telling people at work that you have bipolar disorder
- improve your ability to balance work responsibilities with health needs
- improve your work performance
- reduce your risk of job loss
- reduce stress and its negative effects on your health and well-being
- negatively affect your self-esteem, motivation, and work performance
- strain your workplace relationships and
- limit your opportunities for professional development and advancement
- increase your risk of job loss
- increase stress and its negative effects on your health and well-being
If you work for a company in the United States that employs 15 or more employees, the American Disabilities Act grants you the right to reasonable accommodations.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also grants certain employees the right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year to manage serious health conditions.
“The FMLA provides an opportunity to carve out time for your own care, which can have a huge beneficial effect. That can be a game-changer for people,” says Newman.
To learn more about your rights at work, visit:
You can also visit NAMI for tips on when and how to disclose that you have a mental health condition to others, including people at work.
“I would say the number one thing when you’re thinking about working, and you have bipolar disorder is to have a good treatment team,” says Newman. “You need to have a doctor and a therapist you trust so that if things get shaky, you can reset and get back to your life.”
Managing stress is an important part of living well with bipolar disorder. Work-related stress may negatively affect your mental health, as well as your physical well-being.
Consider following these tips to manage stress at work:
- Take regular breaks, even if you’re not sure whether you need one.
- Use relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and meditation.
- Listen to relaxing music or a recording of nature sounds.
- Take a walk around the block during a break.
- Talk with a member of your support network.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and following your prescribed treatment for bipolar disorder can also help you manage stress. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, exercise regularly, and stick to your treatment plan.
“Lifestyle is … huge,” says Newman. This includes: “making sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well, and taking care of your entire health.”
The following includes common questions about working when you have bipolar disorder.
Is bipolar considered a disability for work?
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), there’s no set list of conditions that are considered disabilities. Instead, it defines disability as “an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Depending on an employee’s level of impairment, they may receive reasonable accommodations, such as products, strategies, and services.
Social Security does consider bipolar disorder a disability. But if it’s severe enough to prevent you from working and has been diagnosed by a qualified medical professional, you may be able to receive disability benefits.
Why is it hard for people with bipolar to work?
People with bipolar disorder may have some limitations that can affect their work, such as difficulties with concentration, time management, emotional control, organization and planning, and stress management.
However, each person with bipolar disorder has a different experience, and not all may not develop limitations that make it hard to work. Reasonable accommodations for any limitations may support productivity and have other benefits.
Can I get disability benefits for bipolar?
In the United States, bipolar disorder is considered a disability under Social Security. If a qualified medical professional has diagnosed you with bipolar disorder and it’s so severe that it prevents you from working, you may be able to receive disability benefits.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can make it challenging to manage work responsibilities — and stressful work conditions may worsen your condition.
Following your prescribed treatment plan for bipolar disorder, practicing healthy lifestyle habits, and finding a job with supportive work conditions may help you manage your symptoms while thriving at work.
In some cases, you may also be legally entitled to workplace accommodations or job-protected medical leave that can help you balance your employment responsibilities with your health needs. Supportive employment has benefits that extend beyond your paycheck.