Bipolar Disorder In The Workplace: How To Help A Colleague Cope

bipolar disorder

Although a lot of awareness has been generated around mental illness recently, there is still a lot of miseducation on the subject of bipolar disorder.

What’s worse, a lot of workplaces in the United States don’t provide enough training for employees to either cope and get help for their own mental health or help a colleague cope who is suspected of or who might already be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

You should be open to delve into what you can do to help a colleague who is struggling with a mental illness and exploring how you can help a colleague who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder cope in the workplace.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder manifests differently in different individuals. In fact, in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)- the manual that doctors use to diagnose mental illnesses, bipolar disorder is listed as “bipolar disorder and related disorders”.

This group of disorders can be broken down into three.

  1. Bipolar I Disorder
  2. Bipolar II Disorder and
  3. Cyclothymic Disorder

Regardless of which one of these a person is diagnosed with however, you can expect to notice intense changes in their mood and behavior that greatly deviates from the norm. The average onset of bipolar is age 25. It rarely occurs in children.

There is no definitive test a person can take to indicate that they have bipolar disorder. However, a combination of any of the symptoms below especially periods of mania that are then followed by depression (and vice versa) would be a reason a doctor would consider a bipolar diagnosis. Although we all go through periods where we are happy and sad, for a person with bipolar disorder, these episodes are pronounced.

  1. Hypomania/mania– In order to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person has to have had at least an episode of mania or hypomania. During mania, a person experiences great excitement and euphoria usually for no apparent reason. They are hyperactive during this period and may even have psychotic episodes and delusions. Hypomania is a milder form of mania that does not include psychotic episodes. The person may state that they are feeling “great” but even during this state, people have suicidal ideations.
  2. Irritability and aggressiveness– During periods of mania, a person’s mood could escalate to the point where they are irritable and aggressive.
  3. Sleep disturbances– This is usually related to the episodes of mania or deep depression.
  4. Depression– This includes feelings of sadness and hopelessness that is consistently present over a two-week period.
  5. Hyperactivity
  6. Anxiety
  7. Severe mood swings

What you can do to help a colleague with bipolar disorder

Granted that they may be getting help and support at home and/or with a therapist,there a a few things you can do to help a colleague cope with bipolar in the workplace.

  1. Listen– One of the best ways to support a colleague with bipolar disorder is to simply listen. If your colleague needs to talk to someone, offer to take a walk on your lunch break and listen to what they have to say. Spending quality time with them and listening does a lot to boost a person’s confidence.
  2. Report talk of suicide– People with bipolar may have suicidal thoughts when they are going through mania and during periods of depression. If a colleague talks about killing themselves even in jest, err on the side of caution and let someone else know.
  3. Offer encouragement– Bipolar disorder does not have to define a person’s life. People with bipolar can live productive lives with the right support. Offer this type of encouragement to your colleague. Avoid using platitudes like “This too shall pass” and instead point out the person’s achievements and contributions to your company. Remind them of their importance to the workplace.
  4. Keep your cool during episodes– If a colleague is in the middle of an episode, it could get frustrating to interact with them. Keep your cool during this time and remember that they are not themselves during manic or depressive episodes. Call 911 for help if things escalate.
  5. Lend a helping hand– Do this only if it is appropriate and your colleague is alright with it. You could offer to cook, clean or watch children if they simply are unable to do so because of the disorder.
  6. Offer to support during treatment if it is appropriate-If their therapy appointments are during work hours, you could offer to cover some of their functions while they are gone. Comment on how well they are doing with keeping up with their therapy appointments. If they share with you which medications they are taking
  7. Encourage them to take advantage of workplace mental health resources.  It is possible for you to improve your mental health, even in the workplace.
  8. Take care of yourself too– It’s important to take care of yourself as well. Exercise, maintain a healthy diet and where necessary talk to a mental health professional who will help you explore your own feelings on dealing with a colleague who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Closing Thoughts

Helping a colleague cope with bipolar disorder is no mean feat. Kudos to you if you’re already doing it! In this post, we shared what symptoms you can expect to see in a person with bipolar and how you can practically help them cope with it in the workplace.

Did you find this post helpful? Share it with people at your workplace so they are equipped to help.