Managing work and study in bipolar II disorder

“I think the hardest part for me was having to approach work I was a bit worried about it... just wondering what they’re going to say if I can't do the night shifts. But I got a letter from the psychiatrist saying that I need to have regular work hours.”

- Alex, 25 years old, diagnosed 1 month ago.

Bipolar II disorder (BPII) can make it harder to work and study. For example, some people find it harder to:

  • focus when they are at work or studying
  • go to work or study as often as they mean to
  • work and study the way they usually would
  • keep a job for a long time.

You may find it harder to work and study well when:

  • you have a ‘low ‘ (depression) or a ‘high’ (hypomania)
  • you are feeling early signs of a ‘low’ or ‘high’ episode or
  • you have just had a ‘low’ or ‘high’ episode.

A number of things might make it hard for you to work and study and study well:

  • When you have a ‘low’, you might feel tired and have little energy;
  • when you have a ‘high’, you might have fast thoughts and ideas that make it hard for you to focus and do tasks.

Talking with your clinician or family/friends can help you to find out what makes work and study harder for you so that you can plan and manage these tasks better. For example, you might take less subjects at university for a semester or you might ask your boss for shifts during the day-time rather than at night.

The side-effects of some medicines for BPII can also make it harder to work and study. For example, lithium and quetiapine can make it harder to think clearly, focus, and remember things. These medicines can also make you sleepy.

It is a good idea to try the interactive exercises and show your answers to your clinician. You can use this to help you talk about what is important to you when you choose your treatment option. This will also give you the chance to talk to your clinician about any worries you have about how medicine side-effects might change the way you work and study.

Medication and add-on psychological treatments can help with work and study problems. For example, people with bipolar disorder who take lithium regularly show better performance at work compared to those who do not take lithium regularly . Also, group psychological therapy as an add-on to medication makes it easier to study, work, keep a job and go to training.