About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder marked by periods of elevated mood (mania), and prolonged periods of sadness and hopelessness (depression). These shifts in mood are severe as compared to the average person. Signs and symptoms of mania include distinct periods of:
- Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Decreased need for sleep
- More talkative than usual
- Increase in goal-directed activity
- Excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (spending sprees, sexual indiscretions, other risky behaviors)
Signs and symptoms of depression include distinct periods of:
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism for most of the day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in more, or all, activities
- Significant weight loss
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
- Loss of appetite and weight or weight gain
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation
Bipolar Disorder and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Bipolar Disorder
People with bipolar disorder may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with bipolar disorder will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A supervisor of a printing company requested information on how to accommodate an employee who has reduced concentration and memory loss due to mental illness.
His duties included operating copy machines, maintaining the paper supply, filling orders, and checking the orders for accuracy. He was having difficulty staying on task and remembering what tasks he had completed. A JAN consultant suggested laminating a copy of his daily job tasks and checking items off with an erasable marker. Another suggestion was to use a watch with an alarm set for every hour as a reminder to check on his other job responsibilities.
A JAN consultant spoke with an employee with bipolar disorder who had difficulty with short-term memory and concentration.
The employee worked as a secretary in a busy office. The JAN consultant discussed requesting additional training time, written job tasks instructions, daily checklists, and allowing one hour each day to be off the phones to complete job tasks.
An employee with major depression and bipolar disorder was having difficulties working in a busy central banking office.
He needed to manage a large staff of workers, provide customer service, and oversee the daily office management. As an accommodation he requested and received a transfer to a smaller and less busy branch office. The employee maintained his salary and the responsibilities of his leadership role.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Bipolar Disorder
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Consultants' Corner Articles
- A Support Person as an Accommodation
- Accommodations Related to Commuting To and From Work
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Dealing with Stress in the Workplace
- Emotional Support Animals in the Workplace: A Practical Approach
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- Service Animals and Allergies in the Workplace
- Service Animals in the Workplace
- Accommodating Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia)
- Cognitive Impairment and the Interactive Process
- I Understand You Are Stressed...But Aren’t We All?
- Return to Work After Hospitalization for Mental Health Treatment
- Suicidal Ideation in the Workplace
- When Support Persons Hamper the Process They were Brought in to Facilitate