Many talented people suffer from Bipolar Disorder – those depicted in this post have or are thought to have had Bipolar Disorder.
To follow up on my blog series, Clinically Creative and Clinically Creative, Part 2, I’m posting about how to accommodate individuals with Bipolar Disorder in the workplace. After all, Bipolar Disorder is a double-edged sword – it can make people unusually driven and creative at times yet completely disabled at others. In fact, Bipolar Disorder is proven to be one of the most lethal mental disorders and is the 6th leading cause of disability in the world. By helping them overcome the disabling aspects of their illness, it seems we’ll all benefit from their unique talents by allowing them to achieve their full potential.
In the US, most people with Bipolar Disorder fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This act serves to protect any person with a disability from discrimination and also has specific regulations around accommodating individuals in the workplace so they can have equal employment opportunities.
The first step is for the employee to disclose their disability and ask for accommodation – without this the employer has no reason to accommodate the employee. Seeking accommodations seems to be a unique challenge for a person with a mental disability. Mental illnesses carries an unfortunate stigma, and revealing that one has Bipolar Disorder can leave them open to covert discrimination. You can never know why your boss picked someone else for a promotion over you… the laws are only so good.
Employers can help battle the fear of stigmatization by proactively creating a workplace which makes people feel comfortable to disclose their disorder in the first place. The more the employer puts forth an effort to make people come forward with accommodations, the more it looks like they are actively committed to avoiding discrimination and the more likely the disabled employee is to disclose and become a more effective worker. Plus, employes without disabilities will likely feel they are working for a fair and trusting employee. Some ideas on how to do this:
- Tell every job candidate that the company values all employees whether they have a disability or not. And that accommodations are available if requested.
- Announce at company meetings or send out memos that describe the benefits of accommodating employees with disabilities to all existing employees.
- Provide clear instructions on how to request an accommodation and what the employee can expect the process to look like.
- Reassure them that any disclosure will not lead to negative job reviews, reduction in job status and will remain completely confidential.
It seems people with Bipolar Disorder have different accommodation needs based on the uniqueness of their disorder or the circumstances of their position. There is no one-size-fits-all accommodation which can help employees perform their functions. Sometimes, the employee may not even know what can be done to help them, I imagine that can be a very scary situation to be in.
However, there are resources on the web which can help the employer and employee find suitable accommodations. In fact, there is a whole section on the Job Accommodation Network devoted to Biploar Disorder. I’ve also found a great article from someone who suffers from Bipolar Disorder on how to help – www.bipolartoday.com.
On his blog, Daniel Bader, Ph.D. points out some common Bipolar obstacles and ways to help:
- Accommodating therapeutic needs by allowing time off for treatment
- Flexibility in work schedule to allow the individual to work when they’re most productive
- Frequent feedback and positive reinforcement – Bipolar people have a hard time reading into how well they are doing and if their work is approved. A few minutes once per week may be all they need to avoid unfair judgement of their own work.
- Crisis prevention plan – a plan put in place ahead of time which can include providing a phone number to someone who can help in a time of need.
In summary, helping individuals with Bipolar Disorder overcome the disabling aspects of their condition may enable them to let the positives of their condition shine so they can achieve things beyond anyones imagination. Let’s help them win their battle – let’s fight the stigma by becoming more accommodating of individuals with disabilities!