What If You Feel You Cannot Work?

Bipolar disorder may prevent you from working for short or long periods of time. Some people may not find the right combination of medications or have only partial success with their medications, and so won't be able to work full time or even part time. If you find yourself in this situation, there is no shame in admitting it. If there is a viable alternative strategy for feeding, housing, and providing basic necessities for yourself, you owe it to yourself and to others to make the choice that is best for you.


The Job Accommodation Network provides recommendations for accommodating workers with bipolar disorder. These can include suggestions for maintaining stamina, such as flexible or part-time workloads, and ways of maintaining concentration, such as frequent small breaks, small task assignments, and a work environment with few distractions. To learn more, go to www.jan.wvu.edu/media/Bipolar.html.

Even if you cannot work, you can still make yourself useful in other ways, helping out around the house or doing volunteer work for a worthy cause if you are able. You can also continue to see your doctor and keep trying to find a treatment that works more effectively.

Of course, you should avoid putting yourself in a position where you are forced to live in abject poverty just to avoid job stress. Extreme poverty and homelessness are more stressful than most paying jobs. If you can find a low-paying, low-stress job that meets your basic needs — a job you can forget about when you leave — you might find it acceptable. Seek help from employment agencies and centers that provide assistance to those with mental disorders. Explain your situation, and perhaps in time you will be able to find something acceptable.

An alternative to not working at all is finding a completely different line of work. Today, most people have more than one career. You are hardly alone if you find yourself switching to a different line of work. It is also quite common for people to return to school to learn a different skill. Older returning students, or nontraditional students, are common in today's colleges and universities. If you can't afford tuition, investigate financial assistance programs, which you can find out about at a school you are interested in attending. Consider starting out in a new direction when you are ready even if you begin by taking just one class.


If you qualify, you might benefit from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). To find out about eligibility and how to apply, go to www.ssa.gov. Alternatively, you can contact your local Social Security Office listed in the phone book.

Some people cling to old habits, even bad ones, because they are familiar and seemingly less threatening than change. They tolerate dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Others claim to miss the rush of adrenaline they get from working long hours to meet deadlines and competing with coworkers. For a person with bipolar disorder, such stress may increase the chances of having an extreme mood shift.

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