Working with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder patients may have aspects of their disorder that interfere with their job

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) People with bipolar disorder may miss work or lose their jobs because of their symptoms. Researchers wanted to know which symptoms most affected work for people with bipolar disorder.

A recent review of published studies found that thinking problems and depression were the aspects of bipolar disorder that most often interfered with work. The authors suggested that treatments that focus on these aspects of the disorder may help people better manage their work life.

"Talk to your psychiatrist about balancing work and symptoms."

The study, by Eleanor Gilbert and Steven Marwaha, PhD, of the Coventry and Warwickshire Partnership Trust in the UK, looked for published trials that measured employment factors for people with bipolar disorder.

They only found nine studies that were treatment trials, had more than 15 people in the study and measured some aspect of work functioning.

Combined, there were 3,184 patients with bipolar disorder in these nine studies. The studies followed the patients after their treatment for an average of two years.

They wanted to look at which factors were related to problems with work functioning, but there were too few studies for their analysis.

So they put together studies that looked at certain symptoms or factors that were thought to affect work function. Two factors, depression and cognitive problems, were most consistently linked to problems with work function.

Of the six studies that measured cognitive factors, like memory and thinking skills, four of them found that cognitive problems interfered with work.

Of the seven studies that measured depression symptoms, three of them found that depression interfered with work.

Some studies found that level of education, severity of bipolar illness and social functioning interfered with work. But those factors were related to work function in 30 percent or less of the studies.

The authors concluded that, “Better assessment and management of depression and cognitive difficulties could improve the occupational functioning of bipolar disorder patients.”

They also said that more research is needed. The number of studies was small and the studies were fairly short term, so it is hard to know if the results here really tell the whole story.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of mania and depression. During mania, people with bipolar disorder need less sleep, feel high or excited and may have trouble concentrating. During depression, patients feel slowed down, sad and may sleep more. Thinking and memory problems can show up during either manic or depressive episodes.

This study was published in the February 20 issue of the Journal of Affective Disorders. The authors report no conflicts of interest, and no source of funding for this review.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 21, 2013
Last Updated:
February 24, 2013