Supporting an employee with bipolar disorder

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Health Assured team

20 February 2020

Research has suggested that as many as 5% of the UK population are on the bipolar spectrum and 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder in Ireland.

With mental health issues being so common—over 10% of the world’s population have lived with a mental health disorder—it’s likely that a member of your workforce has experienced a problem with their mental wellbeing.

Among the most common mental health conditions, bipolar disorder affects over 1.4m people in the UK and Ireland, and can have a profound impact on every aspect of a person’s life, including their relationships, family and work life.

World Bipolar Day

On the 30th March, the world recognises World Bipolar Day (WBD)—the awareness day that aims to promote acceptance of the disorder and eliminate the social stigma that surrounds the mental health condition.

What is bipolar disorder?

Formerly known as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is a severe, life-long mental health condition that causes extreme shifts in moods. Most people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder will experience two types of emotional episodes —‘depression’, where they feel low and lethargic, and ‘mania’, where they feel high and over-active.

Signs and symptoms

Like many other mental health conditions, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can make work life difficult for employees who are living with the illness. Therefore, it’s important for employers and team leaders to be aware of the signs and symptoms, to enable them to provide proactive support.

Depression: If a member of your team experiences an episode of depression, symptoms can include; a lack of energy and concentration, being irritable and poor decision-making skills.

Mania: If an employee experiences a period of mania, they may; feel very happy, elated or overjoyed, talk very quickly or become easily distracted and agitated.

Other behavioural warning signs to look out for in the workplace include; regularly working late, not showing up to work and being less tolerant of colleagues.

Tips for employers

Education: Encouraging your managers to learn as much as they can about bipolar disorder will help your organisation provide proactive and compassionate support.

Workplace adjustments: Speak to the individual and work together to agree some reasonable adjustments you can make in the workplace. These could include ensuring there is enough natural light, supplying a SAD lamp or changing the position of their workstation.

Flexible working: If the individual is going through a change in medication as part of their treatment, they might find it difficult to predict their mood. You can support their wellbeing by allowing them to adjust their working hours, or by offering remote working. If you provide the latter, ensure that you arrange informal ‘check-ins’ via email or over phone to see how they are adjusting.

By encouraging and supporting employees with bipolar, you will be fulfilling your duty of care as an employer. When you cultivate a sense of awareness and acceptance in the workplace, you will reduce the likelihood of discrimination against those with bipolar and other mental illnesses, as well as ensure that their skills and contributions won’t be overlooked.

If you would like to find out more information on any of the topics mentioned in this article, please contact Health Assured on:

UK: 0844 892 2493

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