Poorer Outcomes in the Workplace for Individuals With Bipolar Disorder

Poorer outcomes in the workplace for individuals with bipolar disorder

New research finds that workplace environments may be unsupportive for people with bipolar disorder who may find themselves unemployed due to exclusion, stigma and stereotypes.

These workers had to disclose their condition to co-workers and employers to receive special accommodations or more support, but often the outcomes were negative, say researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Our findings suggest disclosure may risk job security,” said Lisa O’Donnell, the study’s lead author and a former doctoral student at U-M’s School of Social Work.

The study examined the relationship between social stressors at work such as isolation, conflict with others and stigmas, and how a person functions on the job.

The 129 research participants, whose average age ranged between 47 to 51, came from the Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder.

They answered questions about conflict at work, exclusion and stigma by co-workers, social support and their mood.

Investigators discovered high depressive symptoms and conflict contributed to greater work impairments. Meanwhile, exclusion at work and impact of stigma (identified as weak, lazy or incompetent) with keeping a job predicted the person’s work status.

Exclusion at work — which can be a passive form of bullying — can lead to negative consequences, such as less social support from others, the researchers said.

“The results … underscore the importance of intervening to improve relationships with co-workers and supervisors,” said Dr. Joseph Himle, U-M associate dean for research and professor of social work and psychiatry.

The researchers say more research is needed to identify challenges in the work environment for those with severe mental illness which include inflexible hours, lower wages and access to adequate health care coverage.

“These innovations have the potential to improve how this disadvantaged population functions at work and potentially prevent unemployment,” said O’Donnell, now a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA.

Individuals with bipolar disorder could benefit from working with mental health clinicians such as social workers to develop more strategic ways to disclose their illness at work, Himle said.


O’Donnell, L., Himle, J. A., Ryan, K., Grogan-Kaylor, A., McInnis, M. G., Weintraub, J., ... & Deldin, P. (2017). Social Aspects of the Workplace Among Individuals With Bipolar Disorder. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 8(3), 000-000.