Bipolar is a chronic mental illness which is generally characterised by mood swings that go from one extreme to another. This World Bipolar Day – 30th March, Bupa highlights the concerns people are often faced with when they’re first diagnosed and offers some advice for employers and employees.
Bipolar affects approximately 60 million people worldwide and a significant number of people successfully manage their condition while being employed. Bupa’s Clinical Director for Mental Health, Pablo Vandenabeele said: “For someone with bipolar to meet their true potential it’s important to have good communication between an employee and their employer. As a starting point, the employee and their employer should feel they understand the condition as this will help to create a supportive, happy and productive workplace.
“As bipolar is a chronic condition, it’s important for an employee and their employer to be aware of the warning signs, and to discuss how best to accommodate sick leave when it’s needed. If the warning signs are not picked up in time, an employee may go into depression, or go into a manic state leading to taking time off to recover.”
Pablo Vandenabeele, Bupa’s Clinical Director for Mental Health shares his tips for employees living with bipolar:
1. Find the support you need to have an open conversation with your employer: Talk to your manager about your condition and discuss how they can support you with your condition. Share what the signs are that you’re falling into a depression or manic state so you can both pick up on them quickly.
2. Have pre-prepared ‘statements’ to say to your manager if you’re feeling unwell: Often it’s hard to find the words to express how you’re feeling when you’re not well. Work with your doctor or support network to develop some statements, so when the time comes and you’re not feeling the best you can easily communicate how you’re feeling and what support you need.
3. Manage your stress levels: Too much pressure can contribute to you going into a manic state or into depression. If you’re feeling stressed, talk to your employer about how you can manage your workload and stress levels.
4. Talk to your doctor about your medication: Some bipolar medications can cause some side-effects such as drowsiness at certain times of the day. Talk to your doctor about your day-to-day tasks and which medicines are best for you.
5. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption and stay away from illicit drugs: Don’t self medicate. Illicit drugs and alcohol can significantly affect your mood.
Pablo’s top tips for employers:
1. Education is key: Bipolar is a complex condition and often it’s difficult to understand. Equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to better understand the condition. Bipolar UK can support you with what you need to know. It’s also a good idea to educate your teams so they are aware of the condition, without singling out the person with Bipolar.
2. Communication: Create a safe space where your employees feel comfortable talking to you about their condition. Learn more about what their key warning signs and find out how you can best support them.
3. Create a flexible and supportive working environment: Bipolar medication may affect the way someone performs in the office at certain times of the day. If an employee feels drowsy in the morning, but alert in the afternoon, try to negotiate their working hours around these times. Accommodating an employee’s request for flexible hours can reduce the number of days that they are absent and empower them to reach their full potential at work.
The Bupa UK Foundation awarded Bipolar UK a grant of £114,000 to launch an initiative that helps people with bipolar to manage their condition better in the workplace and empowers employers to develop informed, mentally healthy workplaces by providing tailored training and support. Since receiving the funding from the Bupa UK Foundation in May last year, Bipolar UK have helped almost 200 people and 27 organisations. Judith was one of the hundreds of people who benefited from the program. This is her story.
I was diagnosed with bipolar when I was 17 years old. I lived with the condition for about 20 years before I sought professional support. I had always managed my illness myself but the pressures of my family life and doing well at my job while also managing my bipolar just became too much. Despite receiving a positive response from those around me when I finally did get support, I still wasn’t ready to tell my employer. I was scared that people would see me for my condition rather than for the person I am. I was also concerned that people in the office wouldn’t take me seriously or think I was capable of doing my job.
About a year ago, I decided it was time that I told my employee about my illness. I still had a lot of concerns, so I approached Bipolar UK to help me through this. Thanks to the support they received from The Bupa UK Foundation, I was able to receive help through the Bipolar UK Employment Support Service, which helped me better manage my condition at work and provide my employer with all the information they needed to support me reach my full potential.
As part of this program, someone from Bipolar UK visited my workplace and answered any questions my boss or colleagues had about the condition in an open conversation. They also supported me by providing me with tools to talk openly about my illness and highlight to my manager the things they need to look out for, such as subtle indicators that could mean I’m beginning to feel unwell. I also developed some advanced statements, so if I’m feeling or acting a certain way and struggle to explain it, I have something to help me communicate what is going on with my manager. As a result, I’m feeling much more productive at work and I’m comfortable with talking about my illness.
I am now volunteering with Bipolar UK so that I can help others who are living with bipolar.