There is no one-size-fits-all career for people with bipolar disorder. A person’s choice of job 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, quiet environment, where the work is likely to be less stressful.
In this article, we look more closely at the types of jobs that may suit 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 provide tips on how to manage bipolar disorder in the workplace.
Bipolar disorder is a condition in which individuals have pronounced shifts in activity, mood, and energy that affect their ability to perform everyday tasks.
No one career will suit every person with bipolar disorder. However, people can look for certain features of a job that may help them manage the condition. These include:
Bipolar disorder causes pronounced shifts in mood and energy levels. Stress can trigger these shifts. Due to this, doctors may advise people to avoid or minimize stress whenever possible.
A person’s career choice can play an important role in this. Low pressure jobs that do not have rapidly changing demands and tight deadlines may help people keep the stress they experience each day to a minimum.
A relaxed environment
Similarly, a calm or quiet workplace may help someone feel more relaxed. Depending on the individual, this may mean seeking out a company with a more laidback culture, a role that involves working in a quiet environment, or both.
Daytime work with a flexible schedule
Sleep deprivation is another factor that can increase the chance of bipolar episodes. Therefore, it is best to look for roles with daytime hours or shifts and avoid those with a schedule that interferes with sleep.
Additionally, because people with bipolar disorder might have “good days” and “bad days,” some individuals might want to prioritize roles with flexible hours or opt for part-time work.
Some people with bipolar disorder may find that they do not truly thrive in their career unless they have a creative outlet. This outlet could come from the job itself or from a job that allows them to pursue creative projects outside of work.
Consistent with personal strengths and interest
Even when a job has the above qualities, a person might not be happy in the role unless it matches their strengths and interests. A job that a person feels lacks purpose or that does not make the most of their skills may be stressful in its own way.
Every person is unique and has different wants and needs when it comes to their career. However, people who are unsure what might suit them can start by considering jobs that likely fulfill the above criteria.
Some jobs that may involve quiet, calm environments include:
- librarian or library assistant
- museum or gallery curator
- gardener or landscaper
- yoga or meditation teacher
- massage or spa therapist
Jobs that involve creativity include:
- artist or illustrator
- voice actor
- session musician
- freelance writer
- nail technician
- web design
Jobs that typically have daytime or part-time hours include:
- office clerk
- delivery driver
Some examples of jobs that may not suit those with bipolar disorder include:
- Food service worker: These jobs can be stressful, as they are often fast-paced and involve a high level of interaction with the public. People in this line of work often have to handle complaints and work in the evenings. Some roles are also unstable — for example, the waitstaff may have to rely on tips for their income.
- Emergency service worker: Firefighters, police officers, and paramedics have considerable responsibility to protect people’s lives, which can bring stress. These roles also often involve shift work and being on-call around the clock.
- Teacher: A
2019 studynotes that teachers report more stress than people in most other occupations. This stress can culminate in burnout, or emotional exhaustion. For those with bipolar disorder who want to teach, it may be better to teach virtual classes online or try one-on-one tutoring.
- Actors: The unreliability of this work can make it stressful. Additionally, theater actors may work irregular hours, with performances lasting into the evening.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance provides tips for managing bipolar disorder at work. They include:
- Learning to recognize stress: A person should try to be mindful of the emotional and physical signs of stress during the day. These might include a feeling of tension, clenched teeth, or shallow breathing.
- Taking breaks: It is sensible to take a short break whenever stress arises and be proactive about scheduling them whenever a challenging task is coming up. For example, a person could plan to take a break after a big meeting.
- Tackling one project at a time: Trying to juggle multiple demands can be stressful. Instead, trying to tick one item off the to-do list at a time is more manageable.
- Talking 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 that the person has less stress or more flexibility on days when they feel less good.
- Continuing treatment: It is important to continue with any treatment or medication that a doctor has prescribed to reduce bipolar episodes, including while working. If a person is concerned that their medication may cause side effects, they may wish to discuss this with their employer to make them aware.
- Seeking help: If a person notices early signs of a crisis, they should not hesitate to seek 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 should this occur. They can involve their employer, co-workers, or family in creating the plan if that would be useful.
A person’s self-care outside of work can also help them manage the tasks in their job. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration recommends:
- getting regular exercise
- eating a balanced diet
- avoiding alcohol and substance use
- getting enough sleep and maintaining a consistent sleep schedule
- taking medication according to the doctor’s directions
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition. In some cases, it can affect a person’s ability to function in daily life to the extent that it becomes a disability.
In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects anyone with a condition that “substantially limits one or more major life activities.” This means that employees with bipolar disorder may have certain workplace rights.
The ADA’s protections include:
- Protection from 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 any potential or current employer if they do not wish to.
- Right to reasonable accommodations: This means that an employer must adjust someone’s work environment to help them manage their condition, unless doing so causes undue hardship to the employer.
Some examples of accommodations that may help people with bipolar disorder include:
- flexible hours
- daytime shifts
- a quiet office or cubicle to work in
- more frequent short breaks
- working from home
Even if someone thinks that they may need accommodations when they apply for a job, they do not need 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 symptom triggers, many individuals find that low stress, calm roles with daytime hours are more suitable.
There are many jobs that someone with bipolar disorder could find fulfilling, ranging from creative to technical roles. A person’s individual needs, interests, and skills should all play a role in the decision.
When applying for jobs, it is important to research the company, its practices, and what the role involves. It is also a good idea for the person to consider their strengths and the things they find challenging. A careers advisor may be able to help with finding and applying for the right position.